Family, Housing, and Community Connection Strategies

When individuals are released from incarceration, many in society hope that their served time has prepared them to contribute to their community. This anticipated mental shift, however, is often undermined by the individual’s inability to find safe and affordable housing. The lack of accessible housing is a significant concern for formerly incarcerated individuals. Unfortunately, in most communities and at all levels of government, the current policies constitute an abdication of responsibility for vulnerable returning residents.

Family, Housing, and Community Connection Strategies

When individuals are released from incarceration, many in society hope that their served time has prepared them to contribute to their community. This anticipated mental shift, however, is often undermined by the individual’s inability to find safe and affordable housing. The lack of accessible housing is a significant concern for formerly incarcerated individuals. Unfortunately, in most communities and at all levels of government, the current policies constitute an abdication of responsibility for vulnerable returning residents.

Local entities have immense discretion concerning public housing access for reentering individuals and may respond to political pressure and shifting community opinions in making decisions about housing recently released individuals. Given a political climate that can be particularly hostile to the needs of those who are seen to have violated societal trust, communities often have inadequate plans in place for housing those returning from incarceration.

In some cases, policies and perceptions actively exclude the formerly incarcerated. Reentering individuals face an inhospitable housing landscape, including zoning laws that prevent the formerly incarcerated from living in certain areas (sometimes including areas where they have support systems); community members who maintain biased misconceptions about justice-involved individuals; and landlords who discriminate based on the stigma associated with having a criminal record.

Challenges also exist at the federal level. Many returning individuals have no place to live and are de facto homeless on the day of release. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, which regulates the 2,600 public housing authorities around the country, as well as private developers who receive HUD subsidies)33 excludes those who have been incarcerated for more than 90 days from the protections afforded to those who qualify as homeless.34 Given the vulnerable state in which certain individuals who exit incarceration may find themselves upon release (including ongoing health issues, lack of familial support, and unemployment) and the failure of the government to recognize them as homeless exacerbates an already challenging set of circumstances.

Support from family and community-based organizations is needed to supplement and sometimes fill gaps in publicly funded services to this population. However, familial relationships are often strained due to absence during incarceration. Sometimes family members are also the victims of the formerly incarcerated individual who is in need of support. Often conditions of release will not permit a formerly incarcerated individual to live with the very person or persons willing and able to support them. Without a strong, reliable, resourced and willing social support system, the odds of successful reentry are severely reduced.

 

Stakeholders affirm that incarceration and reentry systems must not compound the challenges with regulations and procedures that would inhibit the provision of services and supports designed to facilitate successful reentry.

If a definition of success in reentry only contemplates that a person will not re-offend without concerning itself with the supports critical to ensure that lack of criminal behavior, it is incomplete. Safeguarding housing as well as community and familial support for those recently released is mission critical to a successful reentry.

Allegheny County Jail Family Activity Center

Stakeholders affirm that incarceration and reentry systems must not compound the challenges with regulations and procedures that would inhibit the provision of services and supports designed to facilitate successful reentry.

If a definition of success in reentry only contemplates that a person will not re-offend without concerning itself with the supports critical to ensure that lack of criminal behavior, it is incomplete. Safeguarding housing as well as community and familial support for those recently released is mission critical to a successful reentry.

Allegheny County Jail Family Activity Center

Ensure affordable and accessible housing for returning residents

Expanding affordable and accessible housing for returning individuals

  • In working to expand housing for those returning from a period of incarceration, it is critically important to ensure that the potential housing is both affordable for those grappling with limited financial resources and accessible given the restrictions often placed on those post–release. By anticipating and planning for these hindrances in the provision of housing, support systems can help the formerly incarcerated avoid additional hurdles as they seek an effective reentry.

Strategy in Practice: Seattle/King County Section 8 Voucher Program: In unincorporated King County, Seattle, or Bellevue in Washington State, landlords are prohibited from denying housing to an individual based on his or her status as a recipient of Section 8 funds. This helps to ensure the availability of local housing options, not only for the persons released from incarceration, but also for their families.


Strategy in Practice: King County Housing Authority (KCHA): Also located in King County, Washington, the KCHA provides as many as 46 single parents facing homelessness upon release with Section 8 vouchers each year. The allocated vouchers afford the recently released parents and their children the ability to inhabit multifamily apartments run by the YMCA in rural areas.

  • Partnering among local, state, and federal public organizations and private or faith-based organizations to increase the availability of housing
    The provision of available housing for the formerly incarcerated requires the active involvement of a variety of entities relevant to our national housing context. Developing partnerships across sectors—including public, private, and faith-based organizations—would serve as a valuable step in acknowledging the shared responsibility of a variety of societal groups and in recognizing their potential to have a positive influence on housing accessibility.

Strategy in Practice: Seattle/King County Section 8 Voucher Program: In unincorporated King County, Seattle, or Bellevue in Washington State, landlords are prohibited from denying housing to an individual based on his or her status as a recipient of Section 8 funds. This helps to ensure the availability of local housing options, not only for the persons released from incarceration, but also for their families.


Strategy in Practice: King County Housing Authority (KCHA): Also located in King County, Washington, the KCHA provides as many as 46 single parents facing homelessness upon release with Section 8 vouchers each year. The allocated vouchers afford the recently released parents and their children the ability to inhabit multifamily apartments run by the YMCA in rural areas.

  • Partnering among local, state, and federal public organizations and private or faith-based organizations to increase the availability of housing
    The provision of available housing for the formerly incarcerated requires the active involvement of a variety of entities relevant to our national housing context. Developing partnerships across sectors—including public, private, and faith-based organizations—would serve as a valuable step in acknowledging the shared responsibility of a variety of societal groups and in recognizing their potential to have a positive influence on housing accessibility.

Strategy in Practice: Delancey Street (San Francisco): For over 40 years the Delancey Street Foundation has been providing services and housing opportunities for individuals who would have been unable to find other opportunities for housing. Residents develop skills and work together to achieve shared goals. With offshoots like a café, a digital printing shop, a moving service, and a landscaping outfit, residents can be trained in valuable services that can serve them beyond their time of residency.


Strategy in Practice: Fortune Society (Castle Program): Each year the Fortune Society provides a comprehensive suite of services to over 7,000 individuals with incarceration histories. Based in New York, this organization specializes in culturally competent services and is dedicated to hiring people with a variety of experiences. Almost half of the organization’s staff has a record of incarceration and serve as role models for those at the beginning of their time post-release.

Expanding transitional and permanent support housing models
In the effort to ensure that those recently released have a safe environment to inhabit, more than one model offers a potentially effective plan for expansion of available housing. A number of models for the expansion of housing opportunities, both permanent and transitional, offer viable types of housing that would serve the population of individuals recently released from incarceration.


Strategy in Practice: The Frequent User Service Enhancement (FUSE) supportive housing program in New York City offers housing to homeless individuals who frequently stayed either in shelters or were placed in jail. In a 2013 study commissioned by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, it was shown that after a year over 90 percent of FUSE participants were still housed compared to 28 percent of individuals who were not in FUSE.


Strategy in Practice: Housing First (Milwaukee) in Wisconsin, focuses on providing housing to the homeless population in Milwaukee, not just those categorized as chronically homeless or without preconditions. Since its inception in 2015, it has not only drastically reduced the number of those considered homeless in the county but also saved the state of Wisconsin a considerable amount of money: $2.1 million in Medicaid per year, $600,000 in cuts to the legal system, and $715,000 in cuts to mental healthcare.

Foster community ownership in successful reentry

Reducing barriers to family reunification through visitation and close to home incarceration

  • One of the strongest predictors of the likelihood of a successful reentry for someone is the strength of that person’s ties with a support system. Being connected to other people, particularly those within one’s family, can provide perspective and feelings of belonging that are invaluable in a person’s growth and sense of purpose. Ensuring that those recently released are allowed to spend time with their families is important in the effort to prevent a person from engaging in behavior that might result in recidivism.

Strategy in Practice: Incarcerated with child programs are available in correctional facilities of eight states in the United States, including Illinois. Known as “prison nursery programs,” these programs allow mothers with newborns to keep their children with them behind bars. Though the studies on these programs are limited, at least one study showed that the recidivism rate for mothers allowed to continue caring for their children while incarcerated was drastically reduced compared to those without the same opportunity.35

  • Restoring family life through counseling, therapy, and trauma management
    The effects of incarceration are not confined to the individual who has served time. Often, a person’s family has had to navigate associated trauma related to their family member’s offense and subsequent time away. It is also not unusual for a recently released person’s family to have negative feelings toward the individual exiting incarceration. Providing opportunities for activities that aid in family restoration may be helpful in easing the path to reentry not just into society, but into family life as well.
  • Peer support and mentoring
    While being supported by the broader community is important to the effective reentry of those released from incarceration, having support and guidance by peers who have successfully navigated the challenging time immediately post-release can be invaluable to an individual’s success. By providing returning individuals with an example of someone who’s been able to reenter successfully, those recently released are provided with a model against recidivism.

Strategy in Practice: Arches (New York City) is a powerful mentoring program that focuses on young adults, ages 16–24, who are have become involved in the correctional system. In an effort to prevent the recurrence of similar activity, the program uses a group mentoring model to target behavior and beliefs that have led to an individual’s probation status. The culture of responsibility, accountability, and support has proven effective, with multiple organizations across the city providing the program.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org