Report  |  Reentry

Housing and Services After Prison: Evaluation of the St. Leonard's House Reentry Program

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Third in a series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

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, individuals with criminal records face obstacles including 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

This report, the third in the series for the St. Leonard’s Ministries’ evaluation, focuses on St. Leonard’s House, a voluntary, residential, prisoner reentry program for men in Chicago.5 The program helps residents rebuild their lives and reenter society and helps them overcome substance abuse and gain education, life skills, employment, and permanent housing. Research goals were to describe the program and its residents, examine the program’s impact, and make suggestions about how to enhance programming. Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority researchers compared rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration, and employment rate among a resident group and a non-resident group. In addition, staff examined administrative program reports and interviewed program staff.

About St. Leonard’s House participants

Authority researchers examined 2009-2012 St. Leonard’s House program data on 316 residents accepted into the program and 467 applicants who were not accepted into the program and lived elsewhere. Black residents were the racial majority during the four-year period examined. In 2012, the average resident age was 40 years old (the range was 20 to 66 years old), 72 percent of residents had at least a high school diploma or GED, and the average number of days in the program was 163. For every year except 2012, heroin was the most common drug of choice among residents and marijuana the second most common. Heroin was second most common after marijuana in 2012.

In the resident sample, the average number of prior arrests was 21, prior convictions was nine, and prior incarcerations was three. The majority of residents had prior property and drug arrests and convictions, and nearly half had a prior violent conviction.

Program outcomes

Resident outcomes compared to a comparison group

St. Leonard’s House provided Authority researchers with records on residents (who were to form the treatment group) as well as individuals who applied but were not accepted to the program (who were to form the comparison group) Those chosen for the comparison group were not accepted to the program due to a lack of capacity. Researchers compared the outcomes of 119 residents to those of 127 non-residents. Overall, the evaluation revealed that St. Leonard’s House residents had statistically better outcomes than the comparison group, including reduced recidivism. Of those St. Leonard’s House residents included in the sample, 48 percent were rearrested, 19 percent reconvicted, and 16 percent reincarcerated. Of those non-resident included in the comparison group, 63 percent were rearrested, 29 percent reconvicted, and 37 percent reincarcerated. Multivariate regression models indicated that residents were 62 percent less likely to be reincarcerated and 38 percent less likely to be rearrested after controlling for other variables.

St. Leonard’s House residents also had longer periods of desistence. The median time to rearrest was 11.3 months for St. Leonard’s House residents and 9.7 months for non-residents in the comparison group; median time to reincarceration was 10.3 months for residents and 6.4 months for members of the comparison group.

St. Leonard’s House residents also did better than the comparison group as it relates to employment. St. Leonard’s House residents earned an average of $10,200, while members of the comparison group earned an average of $5,500 over a two-year time period.

Program outcomes by resident characteristics

A chi-square test and t-test were performed to determine the correlation or relationship between different characteristics of St. Leonard’s House residents and the likelihood of reincarceration after program participation. There was a relationship between residents’ race and the likelihood of reincarceration—Black residents were more likely to be reincarcerated than residents other races. There was a relationship found between length of participation in St. Leonard’s House and reincarceration; those with longer average lengths of stay were less likely to be reincarcerated. Those with fewer prior arrests and reincarcerations, as well as fewer prior felony arrests were less likely to be reincarcerated. Similarly, those with longer average lengths of stay in prison were more likely to be reincarcerated. There was a relationship between residents’ offense type and reincarceration. Residents offense at the time of application to St. Leonard’s House included property, person/violent, drugs, and sex. Residents who served time in prison for a property offense or whose last offenses was violent were more likely to be reincarcerated after program participation.

Staff and stakeholder feedback

Authority researchers interviewed 17 St. Leonard’s House staff and stakeholders. Five staff received no training at the start of employment. Staff and stakeholders did not report the same goals of St. Leonard’s House or criteria for successful completion. In addition to praising the program model, they shared that the best part of working at St. Leonard’s House was helping men achieve their goals and successfully complete the program. They believed that the strongest parts of the program were staff, volunteers, and board members. On the other hand, they believed weaknesses of the program included staff inconsistency and lack of follow through with policies and procedures. Fourteen staff said that sometimes there is tension or friction between residents and staff, and nine said that residents caused the tension or friction. Thirteen staff said that sometimes there is tension or friction among residents, mainly due to personality conflicts.

Implications for policy and practice

Authority researchers suggested ways to enhance reentry programming based on recent literature and research.

Improve resident selection process

A comprehensive assessment process can measure an applicant’s readiness for change in seven areas, including basic needs, substance abuse treatment, health care, relationships with family members and children, physical safety, trauma resolution, and mental and emotional needs.6 Adopting such a process may provide uniformity and preliminary information to discuss at program interviews with prospective residents, but it need not be the sole determinant of admission.

Measure risk, needs, and assets

Risk levels should dictate levels of service which has been shown to decrease re-offending.7 Prior research on reentry housing has focused on evaluating participant recidivism risk and program quality and has found that participants with higher levels of risk to recidivate are more likely to benefit from reentry housing programs.8

A client’s needs should also be determined prior to residency to ensure that his or her treatments focus on mitigating major risk factors that can lead to future re-offending.

The Level of Service Inventory–Revised™ (LSI-R) survey is an actuarial risk determination tool that is utilized by probation units in Illinois to help regulate levels of supervision for probationers. The tool includes four levels of risk: containment, high, moderate, and low risk. Adopting this risk assessment tool would help residential reentry program staff evaluate recidivism risk in order to determine the specific level of treatment assigned to each individual.

Makarios, Sperber, and Latessa (2014) found moderate to high recidivism risk individuals experience decreased recidivism from a more intensive treatment program and lower-risk individuals benefit from a less intensive treatment program.9 High-risk individuals need at least 300 hours of treatment and low- to moderate-risk clients need 100 to 200 hours of treatment to decrease recidivism.10 In fact, Lowenkamp and Latessa (2005) noted that lower recidivism-risk individual are harmed by increased treatment because characteristics that put them at a low risk for recidivism are disturbed by the interference of treatment.11 A meta-analysis of 30 studies found that low-risk individuals in halfway house programs had, on average, 17 percent higher recidivism rates compared to high-risk individuals, who experience, on average, a 7 percent decrease in recidivism.12

In addition, reentry program staff can collect information on residents’ assets—characteristics that decrease the likelihood of recidivism—such as family support, previous employment, and education.13 Rather than a sole focus on a resident’s deficiencies, staff should highlight and foster the strengths and abilities of a resident which will further reduce recidivism.14

Measure readiness for change

Prior research suggests that a measure can be administered at program intake to help determine an individual’s readiness for change. Examples of these instruments include the University of Rhode Island Change Assessment (URICA) and the Stages of Change Readiness and Treatment Eagerness Scale (SOCRATES-8D).15

Enhance programming

Individualize services

The Vera Institute of Justice recommends that programs avoid a one-size-fits-all approach and “individualize reentry service plans for maximum impact”.16 Therefore, an individual’s risk, needs, and assets should guide programming. Residents should be engaged in programs that address issues they view as personal priorities, such as employment, housing, and family unification.17

For more effective treatment, those residents with specific identified needs should receive certain treatment services and be placed in certain treatment groups. Staff with expertise in a particular field should be paired with clients whose specific needs are covered by that field.

Treatment dosage

A resident’s recidivism risk level—low, moderate, or high— should influence the amount or dosage of treatment that he or she receives. Low-level treatment dosage is 0 to 99 hours of treatment, moderate dosage is 100 to 199 hours of treatment, and high dosage is 200 or more hours of treatment. The results of Sperber et al.’s study revealed that when dosage rose from a low level to a moderate level, recidivism decreased by 13 percent; recidivism declined by 9 percent when levels were increased from low to high.18 The study also discovered that recidivism decreased by 24 percent for high-risk clients who received high level dosages. The study indicated that clients with a low risk of recidivism benefit from fewer service referrals and that those with a high risk of recidivism profit from higher service referrals and more intensive treatments.19

Depending on the type of substance being abused and the characteristics of the patient—services and interventions should match client’s needs.20 In addition, treatments and services should be altered during the course of the treatment to accommodate progress.21

Parenting groups

Reentry programs must avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, and this applies the issue of parenting.22 Parents of younger children may have different needs than those of adult children. Children of younger parents are more at risk of abuse and neglect, of developing poor cognitive and behavioral skills, and of being placed in foster care than children of older parents23 and parenting programs often prove more effective for younger parents.24 Effective programs for parents who were incarcerated offer education in parenting skills and help prepare parents for the realities of parenting when they return home.25 While training in parenting skills is always valuable, it is most effective when paired with counseling, discharge planning, case management, and connections to the child’s other parent.26

Lengths of stay

Lengths of stay in residential reentry programs should be determined by the level of risk of recidivism.27 Low- to moderate-risk residents would benefit from placement in less intensive groups, and high risk residents could be placed in groups offering more intensive and extensive service programs.

Caseloads

Case managers should dedicate more time and services to a smaller caseload of high-risk clients. Case managers could better reduce recidivism by investing more one-on-one time in working with their high-risk clients.28

Living quarters

Resident living quarters could benefit from offering risk-level floors. A designated area or floor for high-risk residents could allow staff to provide easier supervision for those individuals. Designating floors or areas for low- to moderate-risk residents could allow staff to provide more effective treatment and less intensive supervision.

Provide vocational training

St. Leonard’s House residents most commonly found employment in temporary jobs (e.g., food preparation and serving; transportation and material moving; sales; and installation, maintenance, and repair). Reentry programs that provide trainings in industry-specific areas could enable residents to gain the kind of particularized knowledge that could improve their likelihood of finding employment.29 For example, Indiana’s Department of Corrections offers employment training in areas identified by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development as in high need of workers.30 In particular, the literature and research on employment outcomes suggest that it would be beneficial to focus vocational training on transportation and material moving occupations, food preparation and serving occupations, and office and administrative support occupations.31

Increase resident autonomy

Residents with lower risk levels of recidivism could benefit from more privileges.32 Decreased supervision would allow low-risk residents to continue to nurture important ties with their families, gain or keep employment, and increase their sense of independence, thereby enabling them to make smoother transitions. Urban Institute’s Best Practices for Reentry Programs recommends that individuals make a gradual transition from the institutional structure of prison to an open schedule.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing proposed that tenants be given the ability “to determine the specific services in which they wish to participate, or decline to participate” and residents should also be “involved in the design, development, and implementation of their individualized service plans.”33

Enhance the effectiveness of case management

Training for staff and volunteers

Case managers should be trained to use evidence-based practices to:

  • Model prosocial attitudes and behaviors, including healthy communication practices and problem-solving skills, in their
    interactions with formerly incarcerated individuals.
  • Promote skill acquisition and effective problem solving through structured exercises and repeated opportunities to practice the
    skills.
  • Use reinforcers and incentives consistently and generously.
  • Use disapproval and punishment wisely and selectively.
  • Maintain an authoritative, but not authoritarian, posture.
  • Assume the role of advocate and fair broker.34

The Corporation for Supportive Housing recommends the ongoing training of staff members of supportive housing units.35

Volunteer management practices are important in ensuring a successful program. Volunteers have varied level of knowledge and skills, which makes training very helpful.36 Volunteer training has been shown to predict the amount of time volunteers dedicate to their service, and it is also linked to retention and overall satisfaction. 37

While there are benefits to hiring former residents—for example, doing so empowers them, makes use of their unique insights, and helps provide role models to current residents—boundary issues may occur if and when such staff disclose their former program participation.38 Case managers should maintain clear and appropriate boundaries in relationships with clients39 while still engaging and motivating clients).40

Motivational interviewing techniques

Staff effectiveness could be enhanced if they practiced motivational interviewing (MI) when working with residents. The Urban Institute’s Best Practices for Reentry emphasize the importance of motivating residents, leading residents to envision new roles and self-concepts, and nurturing their commitment to change. MI is considered an evidenced-based practice, and research has found that this kind of case management style is effective in facilitating change among clients.41 In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice recommends that its employees apply MI when working with released populations because it “can help increase offenders’ motivation to make positive changes in their lives that will reduce their likelihood of reoffending”.42

The National Institute of Corrections offers several free resources and guides on using MI with reentry clients.

Change residents’ criminal thinking

The “Thinking for a Change” program (T4C) can help clients take command of their own lives and through cognitive behavioral training, social skills improvement, and problem-solving techniques.43 Analyses of the T4C program suggest that this program diminishes the incidence of recidivism among those who participate in it.44 The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) established the T4C curriculum, which consists of lesson plans, facilitator notes, video clips, and slides that are available free of charge. Most sessions include educational instruction, role-play illustrations of concepts, a review of previous lessons, and homework assignments, in which participants practice the skills learned in group lessons.

Thinking for a Change was incorporated in to the St. Leonard House’s core programming.45

Improve communication

Communication among administration, staff, volunteers, and interns

The program may consider adding team-building exercises to form staff unity, improve working relationships, and strengthen communication among staff. In interviews, staff disagreed about the goals of the program and the criteria for successful completion of the program. Communication should be strengthened in order to keep staff unified and in agreement about what St. Leonard’s House is trying to accomplish.

Communication with residents

Reentry programs should open lines of communication between staff and administrators regarding policies and procedures. It should also explain decisions related to intake and sanctions while clearly defining the roles of each staff member and improving the transparency of operations of the agency. The Corporation for Supportive Housing report suggested that supportive housing tenants should have a clear understanding of the options, rights, and responsibilities accorded to them by their individualized services plans.46

Additionally, quarterly meetings with each resident may be helpful in addressing residents’ changing needs and concerns.

Marketing the program

St. Leonard’s Ministries has a website and Facebook page and at times garners media attention, but the program could further publicize milestones, events, successes, information about its work and staff, and other noteworthy items. Other avenues of social media could be explored, including Twitter and YouTube.47 Better publicizing its work could enable reentry programs to achieve additional grant funding, donations, and volunteers.

Collect data for quality improvement

Reentry programs should continuously collect data on clients.

Long-term success can be monitored by continuing to follow-up with clients after they leave the program. In order to continuously assess clients’ outcomes, a set of specific characteristics relating to the goals of the program should be tracked. For example, St. Leonard’s House could track the number of times clients recidivate, their recidivism risks, their employment outcomes, and their levels of sobriety.48 During the program, clients can be notified of the need for follow-up information. To gain participation, the program can offer incentives and ask for up-to-date contact information from former residents.49 By continuing communication with former residents, staff can encourage them to avoid previously problematic behaviors while reinforcing positive learned behaviors.50 In order to collect the data, the program can conduct a short follow-up interview.

Effective reentry programs require continuous quality improvement and assurance in the areas of assessment, case planning, the application of cognitive-behavioral techniques, and motivational interviewing.51

An in-house researcher could collect, manage, and analyze the data necessary for continuous feedback; program and performance measurement; and quality improvement.52 Data would also be available for use in applications for grants and other funding opportunities.

An Evidence Based Correctional Program Checklist can help programs evaluate their use of evidence-based practices.


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Rebecca Skorek

Rebecca Skorek is a former Authority research analyst, now Deputy Director of Research with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Chicago. Her work focuses on evaluating incarceration trends and department policies and programs to address critical issues facing the jail population. She holds a master’s degree in forensic psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Mark Powers

Mark Powers is a senior policy analyst at the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council and previously worked as a research analyst for the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. His interests include population projections, corrections, recidivism, applied statistics, and record linkage. He received an M.A. in Criminology from the University of South Florida and B.A.’s in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Illinois.

Jessica Reichert

Jessica Reichert manages ICJIA’s Center for Justice Research and Evaluation. Her research focus includes violence prevention, corrections and reentry, women inmates, and human trafficking. Her work received the Justice Research and Statistics Association’s Phillip Hoke award in 2011 for outstanding effort in applying empirical analysis to criminal justice policymaking. She has conducted numerous national and state presentations on criminal and juvenile justice issues. Prior to joining ICJIA, Jessica worked at the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and in 2005 received the Distinguished Service Award for her work on behalf of citizens of Illinois. She earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bradley University and master’s degree in criminal justice from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Jessica is also a part-time Adjunct Instructor at Loyola University Chicago.

All articles in this series
Housing and Services After Prison: Evaluation of the St. Leonard’s House Reentry Program
Part 3 | December 18, 2016
More than 500,000 individuals are released from prison each year. As they return to their communities, they face obstacles in finding employment and housing, as well as significant debt, outstanding fines, and restitution payments. Two-thirds of this population are arrested again within three years. St. Leonard’s House in Chicago offers voluntary, supportive housing for men exiting prison. Program clients receive housing, substance abuse treatment, psychological services, life skills, mentoring, and education and vocational services. Authority researchers used qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection, as well as quasi-experimental design and advanced statistical analysis, to examine outcomes after program participation, including arrests, convictions, incarcerations, and employment.
Women and reentry: Evaluation of the St. Leonard’s Ministries’ Grace House Program
Part 2 | December 8, 2015
More than 2.4 million people are confined in correctional facilities across the United States. Each year, more than half a million inmates are released from prison and return to their communities. The formerly incarcerated face many obstacles as they reenter the community, such as finding employment and housing, and paying outstanding fines, restitution, and other debts.
Evaluation of St. Leonard’s Ministries: Case studies of former residents of St. Leonard’s House and Grace House
Part 1 | July 29, 2015
More than 2.4 million people are confined in the U.S. in state and federal prisons, juvenile corrections, and jails. Each year, more than half a million individuals are released from prison and return to their communities. After leaving prison, offenders with criminal records face obstacles such as difficulty finding employment and housing, significant debt, outstanding fines, and restitution payments.

Housing and Services After Prison