Groundbreaking Study Identifies Crucial Factors for Successful Community Reintegration of Ex-Prisoners in Baltimore

Groundbreaking Study Identifies Crucial Factors for Successful Community Reintegration of Ex-Prisoners in Baltimore


When: Monday, March 15, 2004 from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m.

Where: OSI-Baltimore
201 North Charles Street, Suite 1300
Baltimore, Maryland

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Programs that help prisoners stay connected with their families, get drug treatment, and work while in prison can increase the chances that they will successfully reintegrate back into society, according to a new study released today by the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

The study breaks new ground by recording prisoners' perspectives on reentering society. "This is the first time anyone has asked Baltimore residents about their experiences both before and after release from prison," says lead report author Christy Visher. "Our goal is to better understand what might help former prisoners become productive members of society so that we can stop the revolving door of individuals cycling in and out of prison."

Of the 15,000 men and women leaving Maryland prisons in 2001 (9,448 of whom had been incarcerated for more than a year), the researchers interviewed an initial pool of 324 prisoners returning to Baltimore, once before and twice after they were released, to describe a variety of factors that affect post-release success or failure:

  • Employment: At the first post-release interview, 44 percent of ex-prisoners were working full-time. One of the most striking findings from the study is that inmates who worked while in prison as part of a work release program had a much better chance of finding employment after release.
  • Finances: Sixty-two percent of respondents said they were in debt because of child support and other court-imposed fees, which created a significant obstacle as they tried to support themselves financially.
  • Family support: Families were a critical factor as to whether people succeeded on the outside by providing financial and emotional support and linking people to jobs. After they were released, the largest share of respondents (51 percent) relied on their families to support them although before being release 54 percent had said they expected to be able to support themselves.

    "Our analysis found that respondents with closer family relationships, stronger family support, and fewer negative dynamics in relationships with intimate partners were more likely to have worked after release and were less likely to have used drugs," researchers Christy Visher, Vera Kachnowski, Nancy La Vigne, and Jeremy Travis point out. "It is evident that family support, when it exists, is a strong asset that can be brought to the table in the reentry planning process."

  • Substance abuse programs: A significant majority (78 percent) of those interviewed used drugs prior to incarceration. However, only a fraction (35 percent) of those who needed treatment received assistance while in prison. The research showed that those who did get substance abuse treatment while incarcerated were more likely to stay out of prison, find and keep jobs, and enjoy family stability.

    "This important new research clearly shows that helping prisoners continue to work, receive treatment for substance abuse, and strengthen their family ties while they are incarcerated is crucial to making sure they successfully reintegrate back into the community after leaving prison," says OSI-Baltimore Criminal Justice Program Director Aurie Hall, who helped fund the study. "By prioritizing these programs, we can reduce both the societal and monetary cost of recidivism."

The "Returning Home" Project

In 2001, the Urban Institute launched a four-state, longitudinal study of prisoner reentry entitled "Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry." The initiative, which is documenting the critical stages of reintegration and the steps that can lead to successful post-prison adjustment and lower recidivism, began with a pilot study in Maryland. Findings from the initial Maryland research are in "A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Maryland" ( Research is now under way in Illinois, Ohio, and Texas.

"Baltimore Prisoners' Experiences Returning Home," by Christy Visher, Vera Kachnowski, Nancy La Vigne, and Jeremy Travis, has been made possible by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, OSI-Baltimore, the Abell Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The report is part of the Urban Institute's ongoing research on crime and justice issues. For more on this subject, visit

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation.