Research on Formerly Incarcerated People Spurs Action to Improve Reentry Outcomes

Author: Jake Cowan and Tom Kingsley
Date Posted: August 29, 2011

Two major reports from the Child and Family Policy Center (CFPC) in Des Moines have helped to describe the challenges of prisoner reentry in Des Moines, and prompt action to address those challenges. The reports, Corrections and Making Connections: The Impact of Incarceration on Neighborhoods and Justice System Involvement of Young Men in Polk County: Implications for Family Strengthening relied on data provided by the State Department of Corrections and the Polk County Jail.

The CFPC found that nearly 30 percent of all young men in high poverty neighborhoods are involved in the criminal justice system, compared with less than nine percent of young men on average in the rest of the city. However, while the CFPC’s analysis shows that more than one third of black men are involved in the criminal justice system, the neighborhood in which they reside does not seem to affect their involvement. Although there is a high share of returned prisoners in central Des Moines’ neighborhoods, the CFPC’s analysis showed that the problem of a high share of black men being involved with the criminal justice system is shared throughout Polk County. The CFPC’s analysis also showed that in Des Moines’ inner city neighborhoods, a high proportion of the working age population was formerly incarcerated or on probation or parole, and a significant portion of the child population had a formerly incarcerated parent.

Through its ongoing partnership with the federal Going Home Steering Committee, the CFPC has taken the lead on using their analysis to influence public policies that serve as barriers to returning prisoners. The CFPC is working with the Directors Council (a consortium of agencies working in the west Des Moines neighborhood and Enterprise Community) to coordinate the development of a cross-agency working group to examine policy barriers. Another outcome of this process is the drafting of legislation on responses to parole revocations and drivers license suspensions that is expected to be introduced in the Iowa State House.

To address workforce related reentry challenges, the CFPC convened a meeting on workforce development strategies that included the Central Iowa Employment Training Center and the Director’s Council, along with the deputy director of the State Workforce Investment Act, the United Way Human Services Planning Alliance, Des Moines Community College, and several other neighborhood-based organizations. The group is currently working together to develop a workforce development proposal to address the challenges inner city residents, especially released prisoners, face securing and maintaining employment.

This story was initially published in Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy in June 2007.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Charles Bruner of the Child and Family Policy Center. The Child and Family Policy Center was the Des Moines partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network coordinated by the Urban Institute, at the time of the story. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.

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