Informing policy and practice: prisoner reentry research at the Urban Institute.

Author:McBride, Elizabeth C.

In 2000, the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute launched its ongoing investment in prisoner reentry research to address the dearth of studies on this important topic, with the overarching goal of influencing important policy and programming decisions. During the past four years, the Urban Institute's reentry research portfolio has informed a broad set of policy and practice discussions about the challenges facing former prisoners. These research activities were particularly timely given Congress' allocation of $100 million to reentry strategies as part of the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative. The following describes the Urban Institute's key research projects and publications on prisoner reentry, and highlights findings from Returning Home, (1) a project that has served as the framework for the Urban Institute's ongoing research on the dimensions of prisoner reentry.


Launching a Policy Conversation

In 2000, the Urban Institute introduced the Reentry Roundtable, which has become an ongoing forum that brings together accomplished academics, experienced practitioners, community leaders, policy-makers, advocates and former prisoners twice a year to advance research and practice. Since its inception, the Urban Institute has convened eight meetings of the roundtable. The goal of the roundtable is to sharpen the nation's thinking on prisoner re-integration and criminal justice practice, and to foster policy innovations that will improve outcomes for individuals, families and communities. The conversations and papers stemming from these roundtables have given shape to policy questions and recommendations, and have served as the foundation for subsequent publications.

Research and Reporting

In addition to fostering dialogue about prisoner reentry, the Urban Institute has conducted rigorous research that explores the policy domains of prisoner reentry, its impact at the national, state and local levels, and programs designed to improve the outcome of prisoners returning to society. The Urban Institute's research portfolio began with From Prison to Home: Understanding the Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry, (2) a monograph on prisoner reentry that has served as the backbone of research on this topic. From Prison to Home provides a broad overview of the key challenges of prisoner re-integration and describes the phenomenon from various policy perspectives. The report's aim is to inform the policy discussions that are under way--from the U.S. Congress, to the community groups that are building networks of support and supervision for those coming out, to former prisoners. The report Beyond the Prison Gates: The State of Parole in America (3) was released shortly thereafter, providing a portrait of the parole process and calling attention to the significant changes in sentencing policies and supervision that have emerged over time. Using national and state-level data, the authors found that the role of parole boards in making release decisions has declined significantly, with parole boards releasing only one in four prisoners. On the other hand, the authors found that the level of parole supervision has increased: four out of five released prisoners are now placed on parole supervision. It was also noted that the number of parole revocations has risen dramatically in the past two decades.

In recent years, the Urban Institute has engaged in more in-depth explorations of unique issues of prisoner reentry. For example, in 2003, the Urban Institute published Prisoners Once Removed (4) as well as a policy brief titled Families Left Behind: The Hidden Consequences of Incarceration and Reentry. (5) These works investigate the ways in which parental imprisonment disrupts parent-child relationships, alters the networks of familial support and places...

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