Health Link Program Provided Health and Community Services to Current and Former Inmates of New York City's Rikers Island Jail

Field of Work: Evaluating whether in-jail and community-based services improve health and reduce recidivism for women and teenage boys recently released from jail.

Problem Synopsis: The vast majority of jail inmates return to their communities within a few weeks or months of incarceration, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM estimated that only 4 percent of inmates confined on any day received drug treatment. In the 1980s, more than 125,000 people came through New York City's Rikers Island Correctional Complex-the largest detention center in the United States-each year, and the average daily census was 16,000 people.

Synopsis of the Work: From 1992 through mid-2002, the Hunter College Center on AIDS, Drugs and Community Health designed and ran Health Link, which provided in-jail and post-release services to women and adolescent male inmates ages 16 to 18 at New York City's Rikers Island correctional complex. Beginning in 1997, researchers at Mathematica Policy Research conducted a formal, quantitative evaluation of Health Link using randomization of inmates to control and experimental groups, examining the impact of its community services on former inmates' substance abuse, recidivism, education, use of health services and other issues after clients' release to the community.

Evaluation Findings

The evaluators reported that participation in Health Link's Jail and Community Program:

  • Increased receipt of drug treatment services and may have had a small beneficial effect on drug use.
  • Increased use of education services and receipt of GEDs among males.
  • Increased receipt of preventive health care services among females.

Participation in Health Link had no impact on:

  • Reducing criminal activity.
  • Reducing behaviors that cause the spread of HIV infection.
  • Other factors such as employment rates, housing or social and family situations.