Do Released Prisoners’ Perceptions of Neighborhood Condition Affect Reentry Outcomes?

Published date01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(7) 764 –789
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420980806
Do Released Prisoners’
Perceptions of Neighborhood
Condition Affect Reentry
Lin Liu1, Christy A. Visher2,
and Dayu Sun3
As the United States enters a decarceration era, the factors predicting reentry success
have received a rapidly growing body of research attention. Numerous studies expand
beyond individual-level attributes to assess the contextual effect of neighborhoods
to which released prisoners return. However, past studies predominantly used
neighborhood structural/economic characteristics as the proxies of neighborhood
context, leaving the roles of community cohesion and disorder understudied in
the context of reentry. Using longitudinal data, this study examines the influence
of neighborhood cohesion and disorder on reentry outcomes, represented by
released prisoners’ determination to desist and social isolation. The results of linear
regression analyses show that net of the effects of individual-level risk factors,
released prisoners’ perception of neighborhood disorder exhibit profound influence
on reentry outcomes. Implications for reentry programming and interventions are
prisoner reentry, neighborhood social cohesion, neighborhood disorder, the RNR
1Florida International University, Miami, USA
2University of Delaware, Newark, USA
3Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Lin Liu, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida International
University, 11200 SW 8th Street, PCA-257, Miami, FL 33199, USA.
980806CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420980806Criminal Justice Policy ReviewLiu et al.
Liu et al. 765
The U.S. “imprisonment binge”—a prolonged period of mass incarceration from the
last two decades of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century—has led the
United States to the top of the incarceration rankings compared with other industrial-
ized and democratic nations (Pratt, 2009). While federal and state governments find
themselves facing the heavy economic toll of housing large prison populations
(Gartner et al., 2011), there is also an intimidating toll that mass incarceration takes
on criminal justice–involved individuals. Past studies document various collateral
damages of a criminal record, such as the blockage of access to education and hous-
ing support (Bushway, 2004; Travis, 2002), the rejection from family members
(Austin & Irwin, 2001; Covington & Bloom, 2007; Liu & Visher, 2019; Travis et al.,
2001), and the difficulty in securing a job (Visher et al., 2004; Western et al., 2001).
Individuals re-entering society from prison face insurmountable hurdles to socially
and financially survive (Liu et al., 2020; Myers & Olson, 2013; Western, 2018), and
too often they are ensnared by the revolving door of prison. According to the recidi-
vism report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 60% of prisoners released to a
term of community supervision returned to prison within 5 years (Markman et al.,
2016). If the recent reentry failure data holds up, we can expect that nearly 360,000
out of the 600,000 former prisoners that reenter society each year will be reincarcer-
ated within 5 years. How to best integrate former prisoners back into society is one of
the most pressing issues for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers (Liu, Visher,
O’Connell, 2020).
While the majority of reentry studies draw heavily from desistance theories (e.g.,
Farrington, 2001; Laub et al., 1998) or risk assessment models (e.g., Andrews, Bonta,
& Hoge, 1990; Andrews et al., 2011) to identify released prisoners’ criminogenic
needs, a relatively thinner line of research attention has been paid to the factors that go
beyond individual attributes (Hipp et al., 2010; Kubrin & Stewart, 2006). The indi-
vidual attributes—attitudes, education, job skills—only provide one dimension of fac-
tors that explain reentry failure. To provide a complete and comprehensive picture of
reentry outcomes, it is imperative to address the conditions of the communities to
which released prisoners return (Hipp et al., 2010; Kubrin & Stewart, 2006).
Among the extant integrative studies bridging neighborhood conditions and indi-
vidual risk factors in evaluating reentry success, the majority of them used neighbor-
hood economic characteristics (e.g., income and poverty rate) to represent community
context (Hipp et al., 2010; Hipp & Yates, 2009; Kubrin & Stewart, 2006; Tillyer &
Vose, 2011). This prism illustrates how the structural disadvantage and resource deple-
tion of a neighborhood creates a difficult context for released prisoners to obtain
access to employment opportunities and social services (Hipp et al., 2010, p. 953;
Kubrin & Stewart, 2006, p. 166). For example, with limited access to community-
based programs such as job training and substance abuse treatment, released prisoners
fall victim to the “resource desert” environment and are at high risk to experience
varied aspects of reintegration failure.

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