Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges for Prisoners

Understanding the nexus among prisoner re-entry, public health, and substance abuse

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are released from prison, many with health, substance abuse, economic and family problems that need to be addressed in order for them to become productive, law-abiding members of society.

From 2001 to 2008, staff at the Urban Institute analyzed the characteristics and experiences of prisoners returning from prison to homes in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland and Houston. The study, Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, aimed to enhance understanding of former prisoners and improve policies promoting their successful reentry into society.

Key Results:

  • Two-thirds of prisoners reported more than weekly drug use or alcohol intoxication prior to incarceration.
  • Some 80 percent of men and 90 percent of women had chronic health conditions requiring treatment or management.
  • Many prisoners did not receive needed health services while incarcerated, and treatment rates were lower after release than before.
  • Most recently released prisoners (68% of men, 58% of women) lacked health insurance eight to 10 months after release.
  • Those with health problems of any kind were less likely to have made housing arrangements before release and reported more problems finding employment than those without such problems.
  • Family members provided much economic and emotional support, and were the primary source of post-release housing.
  • Eight to 10 months out, about one-third of former prisoners reported recent substance use, and by one year, one in five had been returned to prison.