Research on the Formerly Incarcerated

Home Free, the 2020 book by CSI Director David Kirk, is about building credible science to address the challenge of criminal recidivism. It does so by drawing upon a unique natural experiment that presented an opportunity to witness an alternate reality. More than 625,000 individuals are released from prison in the United States each year, and roughly half of these individuals will be back in prison within just three years. A likely contributor to the churning of the same individuals in and out of prison is the fact that many released prisoners return home to the same environment with the same criminal opportunities and criminal peers that proved so detrimental to their behavior prior to incarceration. This study uses Hurricane Katrina as a natural experiment for examining the question of whether residential relocation away from an old neighborhood can lead to desistance from crime. For many prisoners released soon after Katrina, they could not go back to their old neighborhoods as they normally would have done. Their neighborhoods were devastated by a once-a-generation storm that damaged the vast majority of housing units in New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina provided a rare opportunity to investigate what happens when individuals move not just a short distance, but to entirely different cities, counties, and social worlds. This study draws upon both quantitative and qualitative evidence to reveal where newly released prisoners resided in the wake of the Katrina, the effect of residential relocation on the likelihood of reincarceration through eight years post-release, and the mechanisms revealing why residential change is so important.