More than 2.4 million people are confined in the U.S. in state and federal prisons, juvenile corrections, and jails.1 Each year, more than half a million individuals are released from prison and return to their communities.2 After leaving prison, offenders with criminal records face obstacles such as difficulty finding employment and housing, significant debt, outstanding fines, and restitution payments.3 Two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years of release—for new crimes or a violation of parole.4
Upon prison release, many individuals are in need of housing, healthcare, substance abuse treatment, and employment. St. Leonard’s Ministries works to meet many of those needs through its operation of two transitional, residential programs with support services for the formerly incarcerated in Chicago. The Ministries is the umbrella organization operating St. Leonard’s House serving adult men exiting prison and Grace House serving adult women exiting prison.
Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority researchers conducted a multi-component evaluation to analyze client outcomes, explore the programs’ residents and operations, and identify program components that are effective in contributing to successful resident outcomes. The information will educate criminal justice professionals, funders, and the public about the potential of a long-term, structured reentry program for formerly incarcerated individuals.
The first in the series of reports on the evaluation of St. Leonard’s Ministries features five case studies. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with three men and two women, former residents of St. Leonard’s House and Grace House, respectively. The goal was to learn about the life experiences of program participants before, during, and after the program.
The following five former residents were interviewed for this study.
- David was a 46-year-old Black male and prior to St. Leonard’s House, he was addicted to heroin and was imprisoned four times for crimes to get money for drugs. His last prison stay was for burglary and vehicle burglary for which he served almost six years in prison. David was a 10-month resident of the program.
- Andy, a 70-year-old Caucasian male, served 45 years in prison for homicide then resided in St. Leonard’s house for six months.
- Carlos was a 39-year-old Hispanic male who was a former gang member, drug dealer, and cocaine and heroin addict. He had been to prison six times and his last prison stay was for burglary. Carlos entered the program twice, residing the second time for eight months.
- Cheryl, a 34-year-old Black woman, was formerly addicted to alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy. She was arrested just once, for theft, but went to prison after violating her probation for six months. Cheryl was a 12-month resident of the program.
- Susan was a 42-year-old Black woman; prior to Grace House, she was addicted to heroin and sentenced to prison four times. She was an 18-month resident of the program.
At the time of the interview, all of the research subjects were living in Chicago in rental apartments. Two were employed; four were never married, and one was married; and four had children. Four were former addicts of substances including cocaine, heroin, alcohol, marijuana, and ecstasy. These residents, like all residents, received free housing, substance abuse treatment, psychological services, life skills, mentoring, and education and vocational services.
Implications for policy and practice
Residents interviewed for this study reported that St. Leonard’s Ministries’ facilities were pleasant and staff and services were helpful. However, the residents made recommendations to enhance the program.
The former residents reported difficulties in forging long-lasting, effective relationships with the programs’ psychological counselors, who were interns on a four-month rotation. Based on these experiences, the program should consider ways to lengthen internships and enhance relationships between residents and their counselors.
Another point was that program rules should be enforced with more consistency. Staff should make rules clear and then agree on an enforcement strategy to ensure fairness and consistency.
This is the first report in a series of four on St. Leonard’s Ministries.
- Wager P., & Sakala, L. (2014). Mass incarceration: The whole pie. Northhampton, MA: Prison Policy Initiative. Retrieved from http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie.html. ↩
- Carson, E.A.,& Sabol, W.J.(2012). Prisoners in 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.; Guerino, P., Harrison, P.M., & Sabol, W.J. (2011). Prisoners in 2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics; Travis, J. (2005). But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. ↩
- Levingston, K.D., & Turetsky, V. (2007). Debtors prison—Prisoners’ accumulation of debt as a barrier to reentry. Journal of Poverty Law and Policy.; Wheelock, D. (2005). Collateral consequences and racial inequality felon status restrictions as a system of disadvantage. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 21(1), 82-90.;Gouvis-Roman, C. & Travis, J. (2004). Taking stock: Housing, homelessness, and prisoner reentry. Washington, DC: Urban Institute. ↩
- Langan, P.A., & Levin, D.J. (2002). Recidivism of prisoners released in 1994. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. ↩