Flickr user Eric Allix Rogers (CC)
When people are released from the Illinois Department of Corrections, many struggle to find housing
Each year 28,000 individuals complete their sentences and leave the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC). Three years later, under current conditions, close to 40% of them, over 11,000, will return to prison for a variety of reasons. Each recidivism comes at a substantial cost to society – as much as $150,000 per individual – to say nothing about the impact the failure to re-integrate into society has on the person returning to prison.
Experts who have studied recidivism tell us that successful re-integration into society requires three things – stable housing; ongoing employment; and accessible, affordable healthcare. These same experts tell us that the missing component today is stable housing. Too many people leaving prison cannot find stable housing. Many end up in troubled neighborhoods.
Each recidivism comes at a substantial cost to society – as much as $150,000 per individual
The good news here is that we can take action now to expand housing opportunities for those leaving the IDOC, reduce recidivism, and help thousands of people return to productive lives.
A recently released report (“Re-Entry Housing Issues in Illinois”) by the Illinois Justice Project and the Metropolitan Planning Council, prepared with the assistance of over sixty organizations with expertise on re-entry matters, identifies a wide range of strategies to address re-entry housing issues.
We can start by better preparing current inmates for re-entry by expanding job and life skills training programs while they are in the IDOC. We already have programs that serve 1,100 individuals which are working and are successful. Many of these programs provide day work release opportunities which give people the opportunity to accumulate cash while they are in prison, cash which can be used later to pay rent upon release from the IDOC. These programs could be doubled, even tripled in size over a period of years.
We can provide direct housing assistance to individuals departing the IDOC as well. The Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) has just launched a trial program involving 80-100 such people. If the program, which will cost $15,000 to $17,000 per participant per year, is successful it could be expanded to 300 to 500 people with additional financial support. To the extent it leads to better re-entry outcomes and reduces recidivism, it will be a winner from a cost/benefit point of view given the high cost of recidivism.
We can do much more to help those undergoing re-entry find housing. We can work with landlords to remove restrictions on renting to ex-inmates, especially low risk individuals who make up the clear majority of those leaving the IDOC. We can consider providing modest incentives to landlords who will rent to ex-inmates. We can utilize existing affordable housing data bases to help individuals find re-entry housing opportunities.
While public entities can play a key role in making all of this happen, successful not-for-profit organizations like Safer, St. Leonard’s, A Safe Haven and Oxford House can be encouraged to expand their existing transitional housing programs via expanded financial support from a variety of sources.
We even have opportunities to let released individuals built their own rental housing. The City of Chicago, for example, has launched a $6 million Chicago Neighborhood Rebuild training pilot program to acquire and rebuild fifty vacant homes in selected neighborhoods. 200 young people will be enrolled and will develop job skills which can lead to long-term productive employment.
The opportunities for progress are clearly at hand. Illinois can become a leader in the Re-Entry Housing field.