A first-of-its-kind study funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) found that individual circumstances can determine whether the best course of action for successful reentry and future recidivism is releasing an inmate to the community from which they came or relocating them elsewhere.
The two-year study, prepared by University of Maryland researchers at the request of the Department of Corrections (DOC), looked at randomly assigned state parolees and concluded there are benefits to some reentrants of returning to one’s old neighborhood, such as connecting to support networks of family and friends.
However, it also found that returning to one’s home community may increase the risk that reentrants return to prior criminal networks and revert to old habits of crime and substance use.
“Improvement of parolee outcomes is a top priority for the DOC and this study will have far-reaching implications for improving community-based corrections both in Pennsylvania and across the nation,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “We release roughly 20,000 men and women back to the community every year and this study demonstrates that there is no single answer to the best release plan for their future success.”
Bret Bucklen, the DOC’s director of planning, research and statistics, said the study challenges some of the commonly held assumptions about reentry.
“This rigorously conducted and innovative study has important implications for how we move forward in our objective of improving community-based corrections and parole supervision in Pennsylvania,” said Bucklen. “The conventional wisdom is that it is better for reentrants to return to their home area after release from prison. This study shows that going home does not always lead to the best outcomes for reentrants, especially older reentrants and reentrants with drug addiction and less social attachment. These individuals benefit more from being relocated to a different area from their home area after prison.”
Because a large number of reentrants in Pennsylvania go through Community Corrections Centers (CCCs) and there is some evidence that transition through CCCs can result in higher recidivism, developing a policy to relocate certain inmates has the potential to reduce recidivism and improve the effectiveness of the community corrections system, the study found.
The findings are important to the DOC and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole as the agencies move forward under the consolidation Memorandum of Understanding and re-examine policies in community corrections.
“We are encouraged by the relocation study results,” said George Little, executive deputy secretary for community corrections and reentry. “The data suggest that reentrant recidivism can be reduced in part by careful bed assignments to create a fresh start. We will add this strategy to our tool box to bolster reentrant success.”
In Pennsylvania about 60 percent of inmates released from prison are rearrested or return to prison in the first three years and just under one half are re-incarcerated within three years of release from state prison.
Parole violations continue to be an important driver of the state’s prison population and cost the state over $200 million each year. In 2015, nearly a half of all admissions to the DOC were for parole violations and the number of parole violator admissions in the prior decade increased 46 percent.
“PCCD strongly supports the evaluation of new policy approaches and programs, and utilizing research to inform decision-making,” said PCCD Chairman Charles Ramsey. “Improving post release supervision and the reentry process are critically important pieces in the effort to reduce recidivism, and studies like these better inform that effort.”
The $98,400 study was funded through a grant provided by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) using Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Justice Assistance Grants (ARRA/JAG) funds. ARRA/JAG funds were used to support projects that improve offender apprehension, prosecution, adjudication, detention and rehabilitation.