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Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host Leonard Sipes. We’re talking today about housing and offender reentry. Back at our microphones, the Urban Institute, always, always, always happy to have them by our microphone. Jocelyn Fontaine is a Senior Research Associate. www.urban.org. She has a piece of research, supportive housing for returning offenders, that is an evaluation from the State of Ohio state prison system. It was done in conjunction with The Corporation for Supportive Housing and the results are really gonna surprise you. I really am pleased to welcome to our microphones Jocelyn Fontaine, Senior Research Associate, Urban Institute. Jocelyn, welcome to DC Public Safety.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Thank you for having me.
Len Sipes: I really am happy to have you because this is a very important topic. We talk about offender reentry a lot and we talk about substance abuse and we talk about mental health and we talk about jobs, but rarely do we ever talk about housing and you have some really interesting findings. So give me a background, some background on the project and the research.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely. So a few years ago, around 2006 and 2007, the state prison system in Ohio partnered with the Corporation for Supportive Housing on a Supportive Housing pilot. They were looking for a way to get folks who are leaving their system into housing and wanted to partner with The Corporation for Supportive Housing who does this work, to help them to figure out how can we get folks into housing in the community, based on the assumption that if we get people into housing, they can get linked up to the services that they need –
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: They’re better able to find and maintain jobs and we can also reduce recidivism, which is costly for the state and of course, is a public safety concern. So they partnered on this Supportive Housing pilot which was focused on those who would benefit the most from supportive housing. So that is individuals with histories of residential instability, as well as behavioral health challenges, and they started out with wanting to house about 84 people coming out of the state prison system, this was state wide. It was first implemented in 10 correctional institutions and then they expanded it to three more, so it was 13 total. And they housed far more than the 84 that they initially intended to.
Len Sipes: Oh, how many did they house?
Jocelyn Fontaine: They housed, in our pilot, or the evaluation that we did, there were more than 118 or so folks.
Len Sipes: Wow.
Jocelyn Fontaine: But they housed far more than that, and it’s in fact still going on today, so they’re still housing folks.
Len Sipes: That’s great.
Jocelyn Fontaine: But they housed far more than 100 folks into supportive housing in five of the larger cities in the State of Ohio, so that was Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton.
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: And in fact like I said, people are still housed in the program and it’s got some pretty good findings.
Len Sipes: Well, the findings are astounding, I’ve spent a career looking at recidivism research and we at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency like to think that we are a research based agency, we all read the research and discuss the research. These are some of the most significant findings I’ve ever heard in terms of recidivism. So you were able to find a certain percentage reduction in rearrest and a certain percentage reduction in reincarcerations. Tell me about them please.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Sure. So we’re pretty proud of the evaluation that we were able to do. It was a quasi-experimental design, which essentially meant that we expected the interest in the housing pilot to exceed their ability to house people, especially since it was implemented in 13 institutions, so what we wanted to do was a natural comparison group and that is get folks who looked similar but weren’t able to be housed by the pilot due to the limitations that they had in only having 84 housing beds. So that was our comparison group, so individuals who looked like those who got the housing, but weren’t able to because of the capacity of the program. We tracked those folks for a year following their release and we found that the RHO participants, and that stands for the Returning Home Ohio, that’s the pilot project, that the RHO participants were significantly less likely to be rearrested within one year. We found that the participants were 40% in fact, less likely to be rearrested than the comparison group subjects. And we also found that the participants in the RHO program were significantly less likely to be reincarcerated, which is one of the more interesting findings for the state prison system, since of course they want to reduce rearrest, but they’re mostly interested in people coming back into the prison system.
Len Sipes: Sure. Well, then that was a 60% reduction in reincarcerations right?
Jocelyn Fontaine: They were 60% less likely to be reincarcerated within one year, yeah.
Len Sipes: Right. Now that’s amazing, Jocelyn, because you take a look at offender reentry research across the board and just last week we had Nancy La Vigne, the Urban Institute, the famous Nancy La Vigne at these microphones and we were talking about the fact that most of the research projects that measure offender reentry probably go in the 10 to 20% range when they are successful, not all are successful. It’s, would be naïve to believe that every piece of research out there, every effort out there is going to reduce recidivism. Some research studies show that they don’t. The ones that do seem to run in that 10% to 20% range. Having a 40% reduction in rearrest and having a 60% reduction in reincarcerations is astounding.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, well, we’re talking, just to make sure that we’re clear, so we’re talking about the likelihood that they’re going to be rearrested and reincarcerated –
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: But we are very proud of the outcomes, very proud of the findings, especially since we only had a one year window to look at outcomes.
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: And that is important to mention because not all of the folks who were in the treatment group or that got the housing, got the housing for a full year that we looked at their outcomes.
Len Sipes: Right, right?
Jocelyn Fontaine: So we’d expect actually the benefits of the program to be even greater, once we’re able to look at a longer outcome period and I’m currently working with the state prison system and the Corporation for Supportive Housing to continue to track folks, because we found, and something that I think is also interesting to talk about is, even though we had interested participants and interested providers and making the seamless link from release from prison to supportive housing in the community, we found that it wasn’t that seamless, that it took some time to get people into the housing upon release, so all that’s to say that once we feel that people are actually having the housing itself for one full year or longer, that we’d find even greater reductions in the recidivism rate and even greater benefits.
Len Sipes: There are endless questions that are running through my mind in terms of process and how it began and how you were able to convince landlords to bring people from the state prison system into homes that they rent. But this gets to the larger issue of recidivism across the board, we need to mention, I think we talked about before the show, the fact that they’ve received other services as well. So they were just not housing, there were a variety of stabilization services that I think dealt with substance abuse and mental health?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: Tell me about those.
Jocelyn Fontaine: So this was a group that ranged from, I guess relatively low need to high need. So what this program was able to do, and I’m quite proud of them for doing that, was house a range of folks with different needs. Now, supportive housing is supposed to be target for those individuals at the higher need level, but there were some people in the housing who had lower needs and lower or less significant histories of substance abuse and mental illness so all that’s to say is that what the program did was working with providers so they would assess individual need once they came into the program and determine what services do they need as part of their supportive housing suite of services.
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: So supportive housing can range from just having a case manager, to more wrap around services. Linkage to employment to the extent that that’s you know, feasible and appropriate, as well as, you know, recovery services, a whole range of things that go into supportive housing on top of the provision of affordable housing. And we also looked at, as you mentioned, whether people were getting linked up to services and we found that those individuals who were part of the program were significantly more likely to use state billable mental health and substance abuse services and more quickly, so that is a great finding of this project is that especially if we’re thinking about the folks who were in the program as being previously under, unserved, that they are getting linked up to the mental health and substance abuse services that they need, more likely to get linked up to those services and receiving more of those services.
Len Sipes: Was there a way of measuring the various services to see if housing was the key variable, or whether it was substance abuse or job assistance or mental health evaluation, was there a way of ferreting out discreet variables to the degree of saying, “Hey, it was 10% substance abuse and 10% housing and 5% mental health.” I would imagine that would take a tremendous piece of research to do that, but were you able to do that?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, we weren’t’ and that’s actually an excellent question. So this story, it’s a great one, but it’s also a story I guess, like other research, a variation. So we had various types of offenders come through this program and then we also had various providers providing the service, so the providers were across the five cities, as I mentioned. They were a mix of both scatter site and single site housing agencies, so that is, they either managed or maintained a large building of affordable housing, of which the former offenders were part of that housing building, to agencies that worked with landlords and said, “Hey, we’re providing the housing, or we’ll pay for the housing, will you allow this person, Jocelyn Fontaine, to live in your housing building?”
Len Sipes: Right, right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: The agencies also ranged in the type of services that they offered. Some, it was primarily just case management services and referrals to other agencies for things, all the way to one agency that really provided a range of services, it was a requirement of participation in their program that they participate in a lot of services. So putting all of that into one regression, one statistical model, we’re not able to tease out the relative benefits of the type of services that folks got, but that just calls for more research and we’re happy to do that and it’s a good thing too to see that even with all of this variation, that you know, the program still stuck. That meant that the providers got it right, that the program itself was able to match individuals to the housing services pretty well, or else we probably wouldn’t have had the findings that we had.
Len Sipes: Jocelyn, I’m going to, want you to take off your methodological hat and put on your opinion hat now.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Okay.
Len Sipes: What do you think is the impact of having stable housing? Parole and probation agencies throughout this country routinely report that a third of the people who they supervise are in unstable housing. It may be a shelter, it may be on the street, it may be you know, you’re at your Mom’s house, but your Mom said, “Hey, two months, and you’re out.” Then they shift over to their brother, he and the brother get into an argument, then they shift over to his sister, you know, brother in law’s not terribly happy about this, then he shifts over to a girlfriend, they break up. I mean, housing seems to be a key issue for an awful lot of offenders, and so what this research suggests is that it may be more important than we originally thought.
Jocelyn Fontaine: I think that’s right. As a housing person, I think it’s very important. You know, if you get an employment reentry person, they’re gonna say the jobs, but I like to think of housing as both the figurative and literal foundation that successful reentry can be launched. So it is my opinion that if someone doesn’t have stable housing, it’s difficult for them to find and maintain employment. If a person is worried about where they’re gonna sleep that night, it’s difficult for them to maintain their sobriety or continue on their regimen for mental health services for example. So I think it is extremely important and if you know, someone doesn’t have a place to sleep, if they’re worried about their housing, I think it’s difficult for them to think also about, you know, finding a job, being able to go to that job every single day, maintain good hours, having the clothing that they need in order to be successful in that job, having the rest that they need if they’re, you know, worrying about where they’re gonna lay their heads. So I think we need to think of housing as a platform for successful reentry, not only is it you know, a good thing to get people into housing, but thinking of housing, again, as that platform. So once people are into stable housing and it doesn’t necessarily have to be supportive housing, right? Its affordable housing, and appropriate housing placement, then folks can begin to be more successful on these other outcomes like job, reducing their substance use, getting medications for physical or mental health, reunifying with their family and friends.
Len Sipes: Several offenders have told me throughout my career that the housing component to them was one of the most important parts of coming out. That and supportive friends, supportive family and this is why I think the faith based program that we run and volunteer programs that try to mentor to people coming out of the prison system become so important, that it was quiet place to go and be by themselves and to provide a, it provides a certain sense of stabilization in the psychological well being of their lives. I mean, they just said, “My God, I mean, after being in prison and being around people all the time and then you go over to my brother’s house and I was over there with his family and you have no privacy and suddenly you have the ability to sleep when you want to think, when you want to contemplate life, that they found it to be psychologically comforting and a psychological comfort level that will allow them to do the certain things that they had to do. So am I in the ballpark or am I being Pollyannaish about this?
Jocelyn Fontaine: No, I think that sounds about right. That’s how we think of our own housing, right?
Len Sipes: Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. That’s how we –
Jocelyn Fontaine: So we should expect that from other folks as well and it’s just you know, when we release folks without proper housing placements and it makes sense that people rely on their family mostly in the, you know, the initial days of their release, but we need to be honest that sometimes that’s not the best housing placement and we found in some of the work that Nancy La Vigne has done and we’ve continued to do in more recent reentry evaluations is that people would like to be able to have their own place and to not have to rely on their family so much and have acknowledged, you know, which I think is quite honestly, that it’s not the best place, it’s not you know, the best place to go is back with family and heavily relying on them and perhaps not being able to support your family in the way that you should, in order to be able to stay living in their housing. So it makes sense to me that there’s these psychological benefits of housing.
Len Sipes: We’re more than halfway through the program. Our guest today is Jocelyn Fontaine; she is the Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute. www.urban.org www.urban.org. Housing and offender reentry is the topic of today’s program. She did a piece of research with others called Supportive Housing for Returning Prisoners, a program in Ohio that has astoundingly wonderful results, reduced rearrest by 40%, reduced reincarcerations by 60%. Jocelyn, with 700,000 people coming out of the state and local prison systems, state and federal prison systems every single year. 700,000, that’s just an immense number of human beings that are transitioning from the prison system to the state levels and transitioning to federal parole and probation authorities like mine. You know, the states are screaming bloody murder about their budgets and they’re saying, they’re reducing incarcerations, they’re closing prisons, they’re trying to come to grips with trying different things to reduce the rate of reincarceration, reduce the rate of recidivism because A: it cuts back dramatically on criminal victimization, but B: to them I think more importantly, it cuts a back on how much money they have to spend.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.
Len Sipes: And that’s a reality for governors throughout this country. I’ve maintained that governors have had this conversation with every state correctional administrator in the country, that you’ve gotta learn to live within your budgets and you’ve gotta learn to find a way to reduce the amount of people coming back. This seems to hold some promise; this seems to hold something that people should consider.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep, and I want to give credit to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction for you know, very much going out on a limb and funding this program, and funding the research. I don’ t know if we mentioned that, but that’s pretty progressive and innovative to, “Let’s see if this housing sticks” and then waiting it out to see. As I mentioned earlier on, this started in 2006, we just finished the research just a couple of months ago. So their willingness to participate in the research study, to put themselves under scrutiny, to allow us to come in to look at their data and see what happens, is, a credit to them, that they’re you know, a progressive state that’s willing to look at this in a different way.
Len Sipes: And Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been a progressive entity over the course of the last quarter century. They always seem to be taking a lead in terms of taking a look at how they operate and what the impact is. Jocelyn, what are the policy implications of all of this, the average person sitting here in Washington DC, the average person listening to this program in New York City and Honolulu and San Francisco, they’re gonna take a look at their housing situation in those particular cities, which are some of the most expensive cities in the world, and they’re gonna say, “Wait a minute.” Giving housing to people coming out of the prison system, I can’t even find housing for my kid.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah.
Len Sipes: I desperately want my own kid to get out of my own house, but he or she can’t afford it and here we are providing arrangements, making arrangements and in some cases, paying for them, to find supportive housing upon release from the prison system. So what are the policy implications, what are the practical lessons that governors and mayors and county executives and parole and probation administrators can pull from this?
Jocelyn Fontaine: I think one is that collaboration and partnerships are a good thing and that they work. The state prison system didn’t go it alone here, they worked with an agency that has a history of doing this, that has helped jurisdictions across the country and in fact they’re doing this work in other places beyond Ohio, so working with the Corporation for Supportive Housing to say, “Look, we’re releasing these guys. Some of them are appropriate for supportive housing. Help us figure out how to make it work.” The Corporation for Supportive Housing is you know, knows hey there’s these community based providers that are providing this service to people in the community, right?
Len Sipes: Right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: And that there’s a percentage of them that have these criminal justice histories. They’re there, right? 700,000 people you just mentioned the number –
Len Sipes: Yes, every year.
Jocelyn Fontaine: That means that’s a lot of people who are in the community that are receiving supportive housing with these criminal justice histories. So what they’ve tried to do is just say, “Let’s extend this.” So these agencies are already doing this work, the prison system is releasing people, so let’s just make that linkage a little bit more seamless so that they can extend or reach into the prisons to get these guys and then therefore we’d have better reentry outcomes. So I think that’s a lesson that you already have agencies in your communities doing this work, they’re already providing supportive housing.
Len Sipes: They’re already doing it.
Jocelyn Fontaine: They’re already doing it, so why don’t we just toward better outcomes, so that these guys aren’t hitting the community with no housing placements, nowhere to go, see if it works, you know? See if we can create this linkage and you know, if the Department of Corrections they’re willing to spend this money, Ohio was willing to do it knowing that if we spend it now, that’s savings that we’ll get later because they’re not coming back –
Len Sipes: Right!
Jocelyn Fontaine: Then it’s a worthwhile investment. And of course, that’s for jurisdictions to decide on their own, but it was beneficial in Ohio.
Len Sipes: And also the savings in terms of criminal victimizations.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.
Len Sipes: I mean, you have a situation where if you could produce 40% fewer arrests, 60% fewer reincarcerations, I mean, that would save tens of billions of dollars over the long run in terms of every state in the country, but you can see how difficult it is because the average person is gonna say to themselves, “Wait a minute, I can’t afford housing, why are you giving it to people coming out of the prison system?” The flip side of that is that it saves people from being victimized and it saves taxpayers a tremendous amount of money.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly. And there are other small things that can be done, right? So here, in this program, the state prison system was actually funding the housing, but there are other things that can be done just by a prison system creating more information for returning prisoners, about available housing placement, right? And it doesn’t have to be a situation which the correctional department is paying for all of someone’s rent; it could be a percentage, right?
Len Sipes: Right, right.
Jocelyn Fontaine: That get’s phased out over time as person gets linked up to more gainful employment.
Len Sipes: And the percentage may be just enough to tip the scale.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly, exactly.
Len Sipes: It may be just enough to get that person in a supportive housing in to dramatically increase the chances of the person –
Jocelyn Fontaine: Getting a job. . .
Len Sipes: . . . Doing well, getting a job, becoming a taxpayer, not a tax burden, and especially if they’re linked to other supportive services like mental health and substance abuse treatment and job services, but the, you know, so the other part of it is that they come back into these same communities and people sit there and go, “Well, you know, I’m not close to those communities, that doesn’t mean anything to me.” But one of out of every 42 people in the United States are under the auspices of or actually being supervised by a parole and probation agency.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah.
Len Sipes: So my, what I say to people is that you come into contact every single day with people on supervision by a parole and probation agency, you just don’t know it. If you’ve, some criminologists, I’ve heard the figure, one in 20 and I have no documentation to one in 20, they just gave their opinion in terms of people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the past, but everybody, every single day, comes into contact with people who have been caught up, currently, or in the past, with the criminal justice system. So I guess my question is that do you want them coming out with support so they won’t reoffend and so you won’t have to pay for them again, or not? What’s your comfort level?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.
Len Sipes: The person comes out of the prison system with mental health problems; don’t you want that person to receive mental health treatment?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.
Len Sipes: And doesn’t that protect you and your family and your kids and your neighbors and your friends?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep, and we’ve heard that from landlords, as part of this housing study, or even employers, as part of other reentry evaluations that we’ve done, who’ve said, you know, these guys or these gals in this program are better than the other folks that you know, that I’m employing because they have a case manager, because they’re part of a program, because someone’s watching, not over them, but helping them out, that they have somebody, some support system, someone that’s focused on their reentry goals. And so you know, just like you said, you know, without a doubt, these folks are coming back and so if, you know, we can provide them with some supports, you know, I think that that goes a long way towards better reentry outcomes so that people aren’t coming back into the system.
Len Sipes: It’s my guess that an employer is going to be far more prone to hire somebody if they have stable housing. It’s my guess that in a discretionary world, where people go in and get drug treatment, you know, it is discretionary. I mean, people do chose who gets drug treatment and who doesn’t and I would guess that people would be more prone, or more apt to say, “Yes, let’s provide this person with drug treatment. He has stable housing, we’re not gonna have to worry about him wandering the streets, we’re not gonna have to worry about him deteriorating because he has no place to go.” It just seems to be a platform for other good things to happen in that person’s life which is why I’m guessing, and I think you’re guessing the same thing, that we have a 40% reduction in rearrest and a 60% reduction in reincarcerations.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Absolutely.
Len Sipes: And that, you know, that platform, that just absolutely intrigues me. Final words, we’re in the final three minutes of the program, Jocelyn. So we talked about policy implications, we talked about landlords, we talked about mayors considering this sort of a program, they need to get beyond, do they not, the fear that they may be criticized, for providing housing for people coming out of the prison system? Again, considering that there’s a lot of people who can’t afford housing to begin with?
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, I think you know, here’s the public campaigning that mayors and other public officials need to do is what you said earlier, realizing that it may not be your brother or your sister or someone in your family member, but it is likely to be someone in your community, and so realizing that these folks are coming back, that we’re paying for them in one way or another, that we do well to be paying for them in a strategic and a smart way and known to be effective way, other than you know, thinking, “It’s not my problem and I don’t have to deal with this, I don’t have to pay for it.” And the fact is that you do, and so when people are rearrested and reincarcerated, we are certainly paying for it, so we do well to think more strategically about what’s more effective use of our taxpayer dollars.
Len Sipes: They’re a five to ten minute drive from 70%, 80% of any metropolitan, anybody living in any metropolitan area.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Definitely.
Len Sipes: When I was with the Maryland Department of Public Safety, I was well known because I did a lot of television work and you wouldn’t believe all the different people caught up under supervision, who would greet me and say, “Mr. Sipes, how are you doing? I saw you on television. Yeah, I’m in from this pre-release system and I’m working here.” And it’s like, “Wow.” You don’t know how many people who are delivering your pizza, filling your gas tank –
Jocelyn Fontaine: Exactly.
Len Sipes: Handling your order, helping you out, doing your lawn care, doing your maintenance work, who are caught up in the criminal justice system? You just don’t know.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, and that’s the sad part, but. . .
Len Sipes: Yeah, and having them having supportive housing and having them have supportive services does seem to make a difference.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yep.
Len Sipes: Not necessarily as high as your difference, but it does, nevertheless, make a difference.
Jocelyn Fontaine: Yeah, absolutely.
Len Sipes: All right Jocelyn, you’ve got the final word. Our guest today ladies and gentlemen, Jocelyn Fontaine, Senior Research Associate with the Urban Institute, www.urban.org We’ll have a link to the document that she references: Supportive Housing for Returning Prisoners. Ladies and gentleman, this is DC Public Safety, we really do appreciate all the comments, we appreciate your criticisms, we appreciate your suggestions for new shows, and we want everybody to have themselves a very, very pleasant day.