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Interview with David Kirk — Going Home (or Not): How Residential Change Might Help Former Offenders Stay Out of Prison

This interview followed the presentation "Going Home (or Not): How Residential Change Might Help Former Offenders Stay Out of Prison" given as part of NIJ's Research for the Real World Seminar Series.

David Kirk, PhD, Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.

Katrina as a Natural Experiment

Dr. David Kirk So what Hurricane Katrina did was it induced some individuals to move who otherwise would've just gone back home, and so I can compare those individuals to their counterparts who were released from prison prior to Hurricane Katrina. And so it's just basically a group comparison, and then I looked at their recidivism outcomes. And what happened was that those individuals who moved away from where they used to live were much less likely to go back to prison within three years.

The message is that moving back to an old neighborhood is not necessarily a good thing, oftentimes a bad thing and that individuals can benefit from a fresh start.

And so the question is, well how do we promote that in a real world policy environment outside of a hurricane? You know, and I think there's lots of different reasons why people, when they come out of prison, they move back to their old neighborhoods: familiarity, attachment to place, social networks, things like that. But there's also some institutional reasons why people go home. One is parole policies. In many states, parole is set up to where individuals are, as a condition of parole or mandatory supervision, are required to go back to the county where they resided when they were either convicted or committed their crime. Louisiana is actually an exception, and a few other states are exceptions to that.

My point is that parole is set up to send people back home, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Another reason why people go back to home neighborhoods is a lack of housing options. We're talking about individuals that typically are low income, don't have a lot of places they can live, especially right when they get out of prison, not a lot of access to public housing, and so when people are faced with very few options, the natural question is, well where do they go? They go to familiar settings where they have a mother or a girlfriend, a boyfriend, whatever, that can provide housing for them, and that's typically back in their home neighborhood.

And so the implication is, well, what as a society can we do to promote residential change. And one option may be to have more flexibility in parole residency restrictions, and another option may be to provide more housing opportunities for ex-offenders.

[End of video clip]

The Impact of Concentrated Re-entry

Kirk Concentrated prisoner re-entry is when you've got a lot of individuals coming out of prison going back to—clustering in—the same neighborhoods. There's a very uneven distribution of where ex-offenders are living in the United States; tend to be in urban areas, but into very few neighborhoods within urban areas. A lot of great research has been done by the Urban Institute to establish this pattern.

So, for example, people coming out of Illinois prisons, half of them go back to Chicago, but they're not going back to all Chicago neighborhoods, they tend to be clustering into just a few of them.

And so, kind of this macro pattern can have some serious implications in the sense that, ex-offenders, if they tend to have negative views of the criminal justice system, then it may ultimately feed a culture of cynicism in these neighborhoods. And there's some great psychology of law research by Tom Tyler and others that suggests that when people view the police and the criminal justice system with cynicism or if they think the system is illegitimate, then they're less likely to obey the law.

And so my point is that concentrated prisoner re-entry, when you have many individuals coming back to a neighborhood who may have had some pretty negative experiences with the criminal justice system, this may be detrimental for the culture of the neighborhood, may in fact create a culture where not only the ex-offenders are cynical of the criminal justice system and the police, but other residents, non-criminal residents become—come to think that the police are out to get them.

But if less offenders actually went back to a neighborhood, then maybe this cynicism would be diluted, in a sense, and kind of the pro-police, pro-government views would have a greater opportunity to have voice.

[End of video clip]

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NIJ Research for the Real World Seminar
October 2011
Dr. David Kirk, Assistant Professor,  University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Kirk discusses how Hurricane Katrina affected ex-prisoners originally from New Orleans and their likelihood of returning to prison. Kirk also discussed potential strategies for fostering residential change among ex-prisoners, focusing specifically on parole residency policies and the provision of public housing vouchers.

We were also able to capture an interview Dr. Kirk in which he discusses in two short segments:

  • Katrina as a Natural Experiment
  • The Impact of Concentrated Re-entry

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Date created: November 24, 2011