Timothy O. Imeokparia, Ph.D., AICP, Associate Director of Research and Planning
Approximately 97 percent of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. will eventually be released and return to their communities – whether released on probation, parole, or unconditionally discharged. That is, out of the Illinois’ 38,259 prison population (as of December 31, 2019), 36,346 will at some point be released, varying by sentencing guidelines.
However, criminal justice contact and incarceration stigmatizes and results in substantial social and economic costs such as constraints on employment, housing, voting, and welfare benefits, in addition to enduring effects on physical and mental health. This is compounded by the collateral consequences, such as legal and regulatory sanctions, of incarceration. Even if not incarcerated, many with criminal records will find themselves deprived of certain rights and stripped of opportunities for housing, education, employment, social services, and other necessities. All of this increases the likelihood of return to criminal activity.
The process of reentry is one with many challenges and an often-difficult one to navigate. Studies suggest that those reentering the community will again be incarcerated at fairly high rates. This is a measure of both the extent to which reentering individuals face impediments to successful reentry as well as the resources available to reentry service providers to support the reentry population in surmounting these obstacles.
Managing reentry to accomplish long-term reintegration has wide-ranging benefits for former prisoners, their families and the impoverished neighborhoods most impacted by reentry.
The ability to meet the demand and complex needs of the reentry population, however, is significantly vitiated by the impoverished and discontinuous make-up of the reentry infrastructure, which is severely under built and underfunded and therefore, inadequate to the task of enabling the successful reentry of the formerly incarcerated, resulting in difficulties for many individuals returning to the community from prison or jail.
It is of significant importance that issues facing reentry populations and their families and communities be addressed through a concerted policy and programmatic focus that also requires an examination of how the problem is created in the first place.
While urgent, addressing these issues is made more difficult by the complexity of the reentry phenomenon. The goal of this report is to increase understanding of re-entry and to inform the development of and to advocate for specific policy initiatives and programs that address re-entry by examining the issues and challenges surrounding prisoner reentry in the city of Chicago. By reviewing existing studies and the best available data, this report attempts to provide a more systematic understanding of the complexities and problems attendant with prisoner reentry – as both a concept and a practice. It is intended to contribute to ongoing efforts by various stakeholders in the city to increase the possibilities for successful prisoner reintegration.