Guidebook: Solutions to Corrections Populations Risk of Homelessness
from locked Up
to locked Out
A Training Resource for Community Organizations
A I D S H O U S I N G O F W A S H I N G T O N
From Locked Up to Locked Out:
Creating and Implementing Post-release Housing
for Ex-prisoners — 2007 Update, Curriculum, & DVD
AIDS Housing of Washington (AHW) originally published From Locked Up
to Locked Out: Creating and Implementing Post-release Housing for Ex-
prisoners as a paperback book in 2003. Intended as a training resource for
community organizations, this guide is a starting point for planning and
improving post-release housing and related services to support the
transition of individuals out of prison. It includes examples of housing and
service programs that are serving this population and offers references to
numerous resources for further reading and research. The book was
updated in 2005 with additional chapters on Family Reunification and
Collaborating with Departments of Correction.
With funding from Open Society Institute, Enterprise Community Partners, Gilead Sciences, and
Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, AHW has updated the book and created a lesson-by-
lesson curriculum / teacher’s guide and PowerPoint presentation, along with a companion DVD,
which features more than 60 minutes of video footage of staff and clients of successful reentry
housing programs from across the nation, keyed to each curriculum chapter! The DVD and
printed materials are designed to be used together as a comprehensive training curriculum.
The updated book and curriculum are available as PDF downloads from the AHW
website (www.aidshousing.org/publications), and a FREE COPY of the companion DVD
is available for a limited time. To order your free copy of the companion DVD, go to
our online order form or complete the order form below and return to AHW.
Fax to (206) 322-9298, or go to www.aidshousing.org and complete our online order form
Please send me one (1) copy of From Locked Up to Locked Out DVD
City: State: Zip:
AIDS Housing of Washington recently adopted the name Building Changes to better reflect our new
mission and expanding programs. Throughout our twenty-year history, we have developed innovative
and effective housing and social service programs for chronically ill and disenfranchised people. Our
reentry work, including the contents of the this DVD and accompanying materials, are a part of our
expanded mission and broader work—we are excited to be moving in this direction, and to be able to help
serve a wider population. Visit www.BuildingChanges.org for more information. Please note that our
resources and publications will continue to be available through the AIDS Housing of Washington
website, www.aidshousing.org, into the foreseeable future.
Building Changes (formerly known as AIDS Housing of Washington) 2014 E Madison, Ste 200 Seattle, WA 98122 (206) 322-9444
from locked Up
to locked Out
Creating and Implementing
Post-release Housing A TRAINING
for Ex-prisoners COMMUNITY
O R G A N I Z AT I O N S
2 0 0 7 U P D A T E
B Y K R I S T I N A H A L S
E D I T E D B Y R A C H E L M O O R H E A D
O F WA S H I N G TO N
S E AT T L E 2 0 0 7
This manual was produced in collaboration with
AIDS Housing Corporation, Boston, MA (www.ahc.org).
Design: Magrit Baurecht (www.corecreativeteam.com) | Illustrations: Dave Albers
4 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
This book is filled with the wisdom of people who know firsthand what it
is to be released from prison with nowhere to go, to advocate inside and
outside institutions, and to create places for ex-prisoners to live well. Many
thanks to the following individuals for taking the time to talk about it.
Kate Bradley, Community Resources for Justice
Richard S. Cho, Corporation for Supportive Housing
Daniel Coscia, Women’s Prison Association
Carl Fulwiler, M.D., Lemuel Shattuck Hospital
Melissa Berkey-Gerard, Women’s Prison Association
Adolph Grant, SPAN, Inc.
Jill Hroziencik, AIDS Housing Corporation
Joy Ickstein, Lemuel Shattuck Hospital
Carl Lakari, Carl Lakari, Inc.
Lynn Levy, SPAN, Inc
R.B. Michael Oliver, Community Resources for Justice
Steven Nesselroth, Osborne Association
JoAnne Page, The Fortune Society
Noel Richardson, Community Resources for Justice
Eugene Robinson, Sam’s Safe House
Ronald Turner, Minority Task Force on AIDS
Brenda Valdes, Osborne Association
“What kind of housing do we want to be building for poor people? Homes
or cells? There is an enormous difference between what you get when you
lock someone in a cage versus when you put that person someplace where
they can become a citizen.”
The Fortune Society, New York City
From Locked Up to Locked Out | 5
Intended as a training resource for community organizations, From
Locked Up to Locked Out is a starting point for planning and improv-
ing post-release housing and related services to support the transi-
tion of incarcerated individuals out of prison. The title, From Locked Up
to Locked Out, ref lects the challenges many ex-prisoners face upon release
when trying to find housing. Due to neighborhood safety concerns, restric-
tions by landlords, lack of job skills/ employment/ income/ credit, immigra-
tion status, and multiple other potential barriers, many released prisoners
find it extremely difficult, if not impossible to secure and maintain housing.
The goal of the 2007 DVD, which includes an updated book, accom-
panying training curriculum, and video, is to familiarize communi-
ty-based organization staff and administrators with life inside the
walls of a prison and to prepare staff for what to expect from people
who are released from prison. From Locked Up to Locked Out focuses on
the types of housing and supportive services needed by returning prisoners
and describes potential challenges to serving this population. Several best-
practice examples of housing and service programs that provide post-release
housing in their communities appear in the text and are accompanied by
interviews with clients and program staff in the video.
Reading From Locked Up to Locked Out cannot make you an expert on
housing development, which is a lengthy, complex, and specialized
process. There is no substitute for experience, so we strongly advise organ-
izations desiring to develop housing for the first time to seek a seasoned
developer who will work with you and guide you through those aspects of
the project. You will likely need another experienced partner to manage
your property or guide your property management. For guidance on estab-
lishing these types of partnerships, the following resources on supportive
housing development are a good choice, since most housing for released
prisoners will be some form of service-enriched/ supportive housing:
Not a Solo Act: Creating Successful Partnerships to Develop
and Operate Supportive Housing (Corporation for Supportive
Supportive Housing Training Series (U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning
From From Locked Up to Locked Out was originally published as a
paperback book in 2003 by AIDS Housing of Washington, a non-
profit organization in Seattle that works to increase and sustain housing and
6 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
related services, both locally and nationally, for people who are living with
HIV/AIDS or experiencing homelessness. The book was updated with
additional chapters in 2005. The new DVD version of From Locked Up to
Locked Out for 2007 includes all the material from the book, newly format-
ted for printing and assembling in a 3-ring binder, along with a lesson-by-
lesson curriculum / teacher’s guide. It also includes over 60 minutes of
video footage of staff and clients of successful reentry housing programs
from across the nation, keyed to each curriculum chapter.
AIDS Housing of Washington maintains a website (soon to be avail-
able under our new organizational name, Building Changes) that
will include supplementary From Locked Up to Locked Out material as it
becomes available, as well as other information relevant to “reentry”,
HIV/AIDS, and homeless housing. We welcome input on the guide and
the website from readers, as well as inquiries or requests, by email (info@
aidshousing.org) and phone (206-322-9444).
Director of Programs
AIDS Housing of Washington
We l c o m e | 7
P U R POSE OF TH IS BOOK
This is a book about the tragedy of homelessness among exiting AT A G L AN C E 1
prisoners. It is written for anyone who believes in building and filling
more homes for ex-prisoners instead of more jails to which they can return WH O S H O U LD R EAD?
when homelessness, among other problems, sends them on a U-turn back 1. Supportive housing
to lock-up. It is a starting point for planning post-release housing and relat- groups
ed services to support the transition out of prison. It is also written to
2. Housing development
improve housing programs where ex-prisoners now live but, perhaps, do
not fit in or succeed.
3. Homeless service
This book also intends to dispel fear. Housing providers with minimal organizations
experience in the field of criminal justice often have anxiety about serving 4. Prisoner advocacy groups
ex-prisoners. In response, the book explains who today’s prisoners really are
5. Community and faith-
and the degree to which many belong more to the mainstream of society,
even if to its most unfortunate tributary, than to a subgroup of sociopaths.
Also explained are the dynamics of prison life, the experience of coming 6. Prison-based discharge
back to society, and how helpers who have not been behind bars themselves planners
can learn to relate to those who have. 7. Members of local
Throughout, the book presents examples of post-release housing
and related services. It shares the opinions of those who succeeded at 8. Departments of
melding the worlds of housing and criminal justice together. It offers advice, Correction
from the concrete to the philosophical, about how to create and implement 9. Parole Officers
such programs. For readers looking for more information on particular top-
10. HIV/AIDS Providers
ics, references for other reports, books, websites, and videos are listed for
this purpose. 11. Medical Services
USE OF TH IS BOOK
Read this book on your own or together with like-minded members
of your community. To cultivate a process for groups of readers, the book
is broken into six sections, each of which could be reviewed in a one-hour
gathering or workshop. Each section ends with exercises and questions
intended to facilitate collective learning and discussion about how your
community will plan for the housing needs of ex-prisoners.
It is hoped that this book will spark interest across the country in
creating local forums or working groups to address homelessness
among ex-prisoners. Such a group could be formed in your jurisdiction
from interested community-based organizations, public officials, and ex-
prisoners themselves. This book can serve as a backdrop and tool for gath-
ering information, analyzing it, and applying it to your community.
8 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
AT A G L AN C E 2
Sections of the book
1 Presents the story of how reentering prisoners became a crisis, how the
prison system perpetuates it, and why we need post-release housing.
2 Explains the criminal justice system, how prison hurts people, the cul-
ture of life in prison and in its aftermath, and the phenomenon of gate
3 Outlines facts about illnesses and disorders that commonly aff lict ex-
prisoners and the implications of these conditions for the housing
4 Describes how to do in-reach inside corrections institutions, what is
involved in developing new housing, contrasting paradigms of post-
release housing, where to find funding, and how to resolve neighbor-
hood opposition and other controversies.
5 Conveys concepts and strategies for how housing staff such as case man-
agers and social workers can best relate to and help ex-prisoners and
describes the right social services for ex-prisoners in housing.
6 Presents ideas about how to engage with and effect changes in the wider
systems in local communities that are involved in prisoner release and re-
entry and may currently be contributing to homelessness among reen-
10 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
COVER YOUR HEAD
We are in the midst of the first big exit wave of prisoners who poured
into our correctional system over the last decade in unprecedented
numbers. Where should they go when they spill back out? Even when
prisoners left prison in comparatively manageable numbers, communities
struggled with this question. Yet, today, with many ex-prisoners “coming
“Inmates have long home” straight to emergency shelters and the streets, it is no longer a prob-
been released from lem but a crisis. Ex-prisoners who are lucky enough to have a place to live
prison and officials face obstacles at every turn. Those who are homeless encounter a compar-
ative mountain of challenges.
have long struggled
with helping them suc- Numbers tell the story. In the last decades, the prison population
ceed. But the current virtually exploded. The number of people behind bars has grown to be
situation is different. more than four times the number in the early 1970s.1 This means the United
The number of return- States now has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s
ing offenders dwarf prisoners.2 Since most who go in come back sometime, the population that is
released is of proportional magnitude. Although the incarceration growth rate
appears to be slowing again, there are still vast numbers of releases for society to
before and the needs absorb.3 Approximately 600,000 will come back from prison this year. This
of released prisoners means 1,600 prisoners are released per day in this country.4
are greater than ever.” 6
Among today’s exiting prisoners is a large new segment who,
arguably, never belonged behind bars in the first place: those who
committed only nonviolent drug offenses. In fact, 58 percent of drug pris-
oners have no history of violence or high level drug activity and three quar-
ters of drug offenders in state prison have only been convicted of drug
crimes.5 Thus, loads of people leave prison each day that are anything but
the stereotypical violent and dangerous convicts many imagine them to be.
Yet, by virtue of having been behind bars, they are inalterably changed—
and their problems with reintegration and need of a place to live present
challenges never imagined.
COMING BACK TO LESS
At one time, the transition out of prison helped with assimilation
back home. Today, this process is changed for the worse. Now, recently
released prisoners actually have fewer rehabilitation services inside prison, and,
in some states, less post-release help outside than they did a decade ago.7 Also,
the likelihood of “success” (that is, staying out of prison) is in a downward
slide. Two-thirds of released prisoners are re-arrested, and 40 percent actually
go back in within three years.8
Introduction | 11
Released prisoners tend to stream back into just a few urban neigh- “Prisoner populations
borhoods in any one community. Maryland, for example, returns more represent the largest
than half the people sent to prison to just four low-income Baltimore concentration of per-
neighborhoods.9 On any given day, in these Baltimore streets and others like
sons infected with or
them across the country, 30 percent of the men are involved with the crim-
inal justice system.10 When these individuals return, their needs are so con- at high risk for HIV
centrated as to overf low local social services that are, in fact, already satu- drug related and sex-
rated with poor people’s problems. In these communities, post-release ual risk factors.”15
housing is either a rarity or doesn’t exist at all.
Despite the perception of crime as an urban problem, rural areas are
not insulated from the burden of ex-prisoners’ return. Although
overall imprisonment is lower in rural areas, among homeless people, rates
of incarceration are actually higher.11 This pattern suggests that ex-prison-
ers’ needs for transitional support such as supportive housing is less available
in rural areas than in cities and that risk factors for homelessness may be
consequently higher outside of the city.
WHERE ILLNESSES INTERSECT
Today’s prisoners belong to their own underprivileged society. They
often have so many illnesses and health risks occurring together that their
return is, in some cases, more of a risk to the public health than to public
safety. Not surprisingly, most of the diseases and conditions from which they
suffer are associated with poverty.
Perhaps most alarming are the astronomical rates of HIV and AIDS
in prison. Correctional institutions today are essentially revolving doors for
transmission of this disease. As a result, today’s prisoners have AIDS at five
times the rate of the general public.12 In addition, an estimated 16 percent
suffer from serious mental illness, while an estimated 75 percent are chem-
ically addicted.13 Prisoners tend to have all these medical disorders go undi-
agnosed or under-treated. It has been observed that age 50 in prison is con-
sidered old, because a prisoner’s health approximates that of a 60- or 70-
year-old on the outside.14
Compounding prisoners’ multiple health problems, and perhaps at
the root of them, are high rates of poverty. They are also doubly like-
ly to be people of color than the general population.16 Sixty-eight percent of
jail prisoners belong to racial or ethnic minority groups,17 and young black
men have an almost 30 percent chance of spending time in prison at some
point in their lifetimes.18
12 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
TROUBLES THAT FOLLOW THEM
Ex-prisoners share the problems of all poor people looking for
housing, and then some. Those who once had a home can be unwel-
come in the homes of family members, as a result of whatever they did to
get locked up. They are also faced with special exclusions in much of pub-
lic housing, where it is a policy to inquire into the criminal backgrounds of
applicants and bar those with a record of convictions. These records, typi-
cally many pages for those who served time, become a ball and chain, sink-
ing efforts to get a room or apartment. Prisoners also cannot enter directly
into much of the country’s subsidized housing for the homeless by virtue of
not having been homeless while still behind bars. Furthermore, even if a
housing program is available and inviting, many exiting prisoners cannot
transport themselves there from their distant correctional institutions.19
Housing for disabled and homeless populations, commonly called
supportive housing, is not as welcoming to ex-prisoners as it could
be. Most such programs accept those who have been incarcerated only with-
in limits. Some require months of “clean time” thereby excluding ex-pris-
oners with substance abuse histories at the time when they are most desper-
ate for housing. Others exclude those with certain charges such as convic-
tions for violent offenses. Yet other housing groups fear liability issues that
they believe ex-prisoners bring. Still others do not have the skills to cope
with the issues with which ex-prisoners arrive. In response, these housing
groups often create restrictive policies that screen out reentering prisoners.
With change, supportive housing could be remolded into a critical
tool for responding to homelessness in ex-prisoners. Needed are a
range of new supportive housing opportunities and greater f lexibility in
existing ones. Toward this end, this book will try to interest readers in
building new post-release supportive housing, changing existing programs
to better accommodate ex-prisoners, and reframing the way all the systems
with which ex-prisoners become involved deal with the issue of their
unmet needs for housing.
How we got here | 13
How we got here
SEEDS OF THE PROBLEM
Today’s crisis in reentry is a kind of backwash from sea changes in
criminal justice. In the 1980s and 1990s, laws changed, judges changed,
prisoners changed, and society’s idea of why we have prisons changed. First
came the experiment of sentencing reform at the state level, sparked by ide-
ological pledges from elected officials to get tough on crime. Examples
include “three strikes, you’re out,” mandatory minimums, truth in sen- “The rate of re-arrest
tencing, and sex offender registration. Among their numerous unintended … rose dramatically
results was many more people incarcerated than anyone could ever believe between 1985 and
Another factor in building the reentry crisis was the abolition of dis- of those sentenced to
cretionary parole release, which keeps prisoners behind bars longer prison today are reen-
(to be explained further later in this book). Even more significant are recent tering prison because
increases in re-offending. As a result, today’s ex-prisoners return to prison, of revocation of their
called recidivating, more frequently and in shorter time frames than ever
parole, and this is dou-
before. Nobody can conclusively explain this increase in “parole failures,”
which are rising both for technical violations (when rules of parole are bro- ble the proportion of
ken) and new crimes. However, they started occurring at the same time that admissions that were
support services inside and outside prison were curtailed.20 Experts suspect due to parole revoca-
that overall cutbacks in preparation for reentry have left ex-prisoners with tions ten or fifteen
little to steady their feet, so they wobble back in the direction from which years ago.”22
These trends have intersected to make the United States a “world
leader” in imprisoning its citizens. Today, one out of 32 adults in the
country is involved with the criminal justice system. The new millennium
started with over two million people in its correctional institutions, up from
330,000 just 30 years ago. As most of them get out eventually, we now have
four times the number of prisoners reentering society each year as we did in
14 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
“This is an imprison- REHABILITATION BECAME AN OLD IDEA
ment binge that fosters
As budgets for building new prisons fattened in the last decade, the
crime and destroys ex- social services extended to prisoners thinned out. Education and voca-
felons’ chances of going tional programs, for example, were curtailed nationwide.24 Because of a
straight.”27 change in the laws governing Pell grants, prisoners were no longer eligible
and college programs behind bars vanished across the country. Parole’s
effect in the rehabilitative arena was also blunted by higher caseloads, lower
per capita spending, and diminished services to parolees, as discussed earlier.25
are collateral damage Simultaneously, prisons became overcrowded. In many states, small
of the prison-building cells built for one became home for two, and prison gymnasiums were con-
boom.”28 verted to dorms. As a result, prisoners today have less possibility of turning
their lives around when behind bars, but a greater likelihood of being dam-
aged by the physical strains of prison life. In turn, they are reentering soci-
ety on different terms, with worse chances of staying out.
Tide change | 15
“REENTRY:” A NEW BUZ Z WORD
Suddenly, in the last few years, concern for ex-prisoners’ “reentry”
unexpectedly blossomed. Scholars and policy experts began writing
about the way exiting prisoners plunge into society and its many conse-
quences. There are now reports, studies, policy documents, and magazine
articles being issued on almost every aspect of reentry. This literature
includes studies proving that certain forms of help after release, such as drug
treatment, job training, and education programs, reduce the chances of an
ex-prisoner going back to prison.29
There are also signs that this dialogue on reentry is finally being
heard by some decision makers. For example, correctional systems in
certain states, such as Alabama, recently initiated new systems of supporting
particularly vulnerable groups of exiting prisoners through reentry. In addi-
tion, the U.S. Department of Justice sponsored eight communities to pilot
something they call Reentry Partnership Initiatives. A Reentry Court
Initiative was also developed that uses sanctions and incentives to help
released offenders stay free of crime.30
Perhaps most significantly, three federal agencies joined together in
2002 to issue a “Going Home Initiative” that will fund two million
dollars to each state in reentry programs for violent offenders.
Although the problem of reentry is as yet only marginally improved by such
efforts, this program in particular signals a willingness of some officials to
invest more public money into building the safety net needed to support ex-
R EAD M O R E 1
16 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
R EAD M O R E 1
Research and policy recommendations on reentry
1. Travis, Jeremy, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul. From Prison to
Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of Prisoner Reentry. Research for
Safer Communities Monograph Series. (Washington, DC: The Urban
Institute, Justice Policy Center, June 2001).
Available online: www.urban.org/pdfs/from_prison_to_ home.pdf
2. Travis, Jeremy. “But They all Come Back: Rethinking Prisoner
Reentry.” Sentencing and Corrections (National Institute of Justice) no. 7
(May 2000): 1-10.
Available online: www.urban.org/crime/NIJ_reports/prisoner_reentry.pdf
3. Petersilia, Joan. “When Prisoners Return to the Community:
Political, Eco-nomic, and Social Consequences.” Sentencing and
Corrections (National Institute of Justice) no. 9 (November 2000): 1-7.
Available online: www.ncjrs.org/pdffiles1/nij/184253.pdf
4. Wilkinson, R.A. “Offender Reentry: A Storm Overdue.” Corrections
Management Quarterly 5 (no. 3) (summer 2001): 46–51.
5. Lynch, J., and W. Sabol. Prisoner Reentry in Perspective (monograph),
(Washington, DC: The Urban Institute, 2001).
HOMELESSNESS: THE UNSUNG REENTRY PROBLEM
Missing from the research and writing about reentry is much said
in-depth about homelessness. The need for post-release housing is
touched upon but without detail. Internationally, in fact, there is a paucity
of research on this issue.31 Yet the United States seems farther behind than
most other developed countries. Australia, for example, is now conducting
a groundbreaking study on ex-prisoners and accommodation to determine
what bearing housing has on social reintegration and re-offending.32 The
United Kingdom also produced numerous smaller studies over the last
decade proving that transitional housing for ex-prisoners significantly
reduces re-offending rates.33
In the United States, there is, as yet, no study on the ability of hous-
ing to prevent re-offending. Nor is there an evaluation of what models
of housing are most successful with ex-prisoners. As the Western world’s
leader in imprisoning its citizens, a position shared only with Russia, the
United States is clearly one of the international losers in waking up to
homelessness as a pivotal factor in reentry.34
Tide change | 17
By sidelining housing issues, reentry’s new literature downplays the “Housing is the corner-
size of this piece of the problem. Perhaps homelessness is so daunting a stone of reentry: the
feature of reentry that it has yet to garner applied efforts to change it. indispensable and fun-
Housing is big and heavy. Building it is cumbersome and expensive, and
damental basis upon
you have to create a lot to make a dent in the need. It can be an over-
whelming prospect. Yet housing is the linchpin that holds the reentry which prisoners begin
process together. Without the permanence housing provides, ex-prisoners to build new lives.
cannot benefit from other services and opportunities. Given ex-prisoners’ Housing programs
complex health status, housing is also a potential form of prevention against that target this group
risks to the wider public health. That is, individuals with infectious disease do a great service to the
are theoretically less likely to spread it when in stable environments.
population at large in
Despite this lack of prominence to the post-release housing prob- securing and enhancing
lem, some documentation of the need can be found. First, evidence public safety.” 41
that a large portion of the country’s homeless once served time is clear. A
recent survey of homeless service providers by the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development found that 54 percent of currently
homeless clients had experienced incarceration. This is up from a 1980s
study that estimated 25 percent of the homeless had served time in prison.35
It also seems that a good portion of them probably left prison fairly recent-
ly, as suggested by a survey in Boston which found 22 percent of shelters’
guests had left prison within the last 12 months.36
There is also evidence that high numbers of prisoners become
homeless during reentry. The rate is higher in urban areas and in states
with greater numbers incarcerated. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, for
example, up to half of all parolees are homeless when they leave incarcera-
tion.37 Overall in California, 10 percent of parolees are homeless.38 A survey
of Boston shelters found nearly one-quarter of the released prison popula-
tion experienced homelessness within a year of release.39 The same study
also revealed that while some were homeless immediately upon release, oth-
ers became homeless shortly thereafter, when temporary living situations
These numbers spotlight but a few regions. However, they allow us
to assume that in the urban areas of your state, from 30 to 50 percent
of exiting prisoners will possibly be homeless upon release or short-
ly thereafter. Furthermore, between 25 and 50 percent of the guests found
in the emergency shelters of your cities are probably ex-prisoners. To get
real numbers for your region, check around with local shelters to find out if
there is an existing system gathering data about their guests’ status. If not,
consider carrying out your own survey.
18 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
R EAD M O R E 2
International studies of homeless ex-prisoners
1. Baldry, Eileen, Desmond McDonnell, Peter Maplestone, and Manuel
Peeters. “Ex-Prisoners and Accommodation: What Bearing Do
Different Forms of Housing Have On Social Re-Integration for Ex-
Prisoners?” Paper presented at the Housing, Crime and Stronger
Communities Conference, Melbourne, Australia, May 6-7, 2002.
Available online: www.ahuri.edu.au/pubs/positioning/pp_ex-prisonersaccom.pdf
2. Carlisle, J. The Housing Needs of Ex-prisoners. York, (United
Kingdom: Center for Housing Policy, University of York, 1996).
Available online: www.jrf.org. uk/knowledge/findings/housing/h178.asp
Tide change | 19
AT A G L AN C E 3
List of ex-prisoners’ troubles obtaining housing
1. Family members who fear them. If allowed to stay with relatives, “Housing programs
they often cannot stay long. don’t want to be in-
2. Lack of funds to pay for security deposits or monthly rent on private undated with the jail-
rentals. house mentality.”46
3. Exclusion from public housing for those who have committed drug-
4. Families in public housing turn them away out of worry about risks
to the rest of the family’s stability.42 Housing authorities have a “one
strike, you’re out” policy that allows them to evict all members of a
household if one member or a guest commits a criminal act.43
5. Supportive housing programs, which often want to help, turn them
down for lack of staff trained to cope with newly released ex-prison-
6. Homeless housing programs follow a regulation dictated by their
Continuum-of-Care funding that they not accept them directly
7. Some of them are barred from certain forms of subsidized housing.
Publicly subsidized housing, for example, can be denied to (a) those
convicted of offenses related to drugs, (b) those evicted from public
housing in the past three years, and (c) sex offenders.44
8. When they get turned down for subsidized housing, they don’t
know how to pursue their due process rights to contest a rejection by
a housing authority.45
9. They can’t get to housing from their correctional institution for lack
of trans-portation and money upon release.
10. Their parole sometimes requires them to avoid specific neighbor-
hoods or peo-ple, thereby ruling out certain choices of where to live.
11. They all come back to the same few urban neighborhoods, where
the few units of post-release housing are already filled up.
20 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
Discussion of Section 1
POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. Noteworthy trends in today’s prison population include:
• soaring numbers that doubled with each of the past two decades
• more non-violent offenders behind bars
• increasing rates of recidivism
S U G G E STI O N S FO R
TH E FAC I LITATO R: 2. Today’s prisoners have access to less rehabilitation inside the walls and
less post-release assistance outside the walls than their counterparts from
Have participants read
a decade ago.
the section prior to gath-
ering for your discussion
3. Ex-prisoners tend to stream back into just a few underprivileged urban
group. Review the points
together, discussing them 4. Rates of incarceration are, on a per capita basis, higher in rural areas.
one by one. Add detail,
Homelessness during reentry is not only a problem for cities.
answer questions, and 5. The demographics of today’s prisoners underscore, not surprisingly,
debate content as you go. an overrepresentation of people of color and ethnic minorities, as well as
high rates of illnesses (many co-occurring) and poverty.
6. The institutional seeds of today’s reentry problem include:
• changes to the criminal justice system
• sentencing reforms
• “tough on crime” attitudes among elected officials
7. In many urban areas, it can be assumed that between 30 and 50% of
exiting prisoners will probably be homeless at either the point of reentry
or shortly thereafter.
8. Ex-prisoners experience multiple barriers to housing that result from:
• financial problems
• background checks routinely run for private and public housing
• laws that prohibit them from many forms of subsidized housing
• fear of them felt by supportive housing groups and family members
• ignorance of how to question denials of housing
• logistical problems of reentry
Discussion of Section One | 21
QUESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES S U G G E STI O N S FO R
TH E FAC I LITATO R:
1. In reading this section, what information about changes in the number of
ex-prisoners or the conditions of their lives surprised you? Have participants look at
the questions before reading
2. What questions came to your mind when reading about today’s trends in
the section from the book. If
incarceration, reentry, and the housing dimensions of reentry?
you have a sizable number
3. How do you predict these trends in post-release homelessness and other of participants, divide up into
aspects of the reentry problem will have changed 10 years from now? smaller groups of no more
Why do you make this prediction?
than six. Have each subgroup
4. Pretend you are at a dinner party where you are talking to an acquain- choose different questions to
tance who knows few details about trends in the criminal justice system answer. One member should
or housing. You are telling him about your work to address homelessness write down the responses.
in ex-prisoners. Fill in the dialogue below.
Have all the groups recon-
vene and share their answers
Acquaintance: But why should we help ex-prisoners more than other
homeless people? What makes them worth singling out? with one another.
Acquaintance: But why not just create more affordable housing for every-
body and let ex-prisoners live there as well?
Acquaintance: I thought the prison system had some kind of halfway
house arrangement for people leaving prison. Why can’t
ex-prisoners go there?
22 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
1 Travis, Jeremy, Amy L. Solomon, Population,” HIV Impact (U.S. 29 Travis, Solomon, 8.
and Michelle Waul, From Prison to Department of Health and Human 30 Petersilia, 5
Home: Services, Office of Minority Health) 31 Baldry, Eileen, Desmond
The Dimensions and Consequences of (December 2001): 1-2. McDonnell, Peter Maplestone, and
13 Travis and Solomon, 11.
Prisoner Reentry, Research for Safer Manuel Peeters, “Ex-Prisoners and
14 Petersilia, 4
Communities Monograph Series Accommodation: What Bearing Do
15 Association of State and Territorial
(Washington, DC: The Urban Different Forms of Housing Have
Institute, Justice Policy Center, June Health Officials, quoted in Ross, On Social Re-Integration for Ex-
2001), 4. Houkje, “Condoms in Prison: The Prisoners?” (Paper presented at the
2 Vincent Schiraldi, president of the Debate Lingers On,” HIV Impact Housing, Crime and Stronger
Justice Policy Institute, quoted in (U.S. Department of Health and Communities Conference,
Karaim, Reed, “About Ex-offend- Human Services, Office of Minority Melbourne, Australia, May 6-7,
ers,” Health) (December 2001): 4. 2002), v.
16 AIDS Action, What Works in HIV 32 Ibid, 1.
in Housing First: A Special Report:
Who Needs Housing? (transcript) Prevention for Incarcerated Populations, 33 Ibid, 12.
(Washington, DC: National Public (Washington, D.C.: AIDS Action, 34 Reed Karaim, “About Ex-offend-
Radio, 2002), 3. 2001), 4. ers,” in Housing First: A Special
3 Ibid., 3. 17 The Open Society Institute and the
Report: Who Needs Housing?
4 Gudzowsky, Nicole, “Community National GAINS Center for People (transcript) (Washington, DC:
Reentry: When the Only Way Out with Co-Occurring Disorders in the National Public Radio, 2002), 2.
is Up,” Enterprise Quarterly (sum- Justice System, “The Courage to 35 Travis, Solomon, 36
mer/ Change: A Guide for Communities 36 Bradley, Katherine, Michael Oliver,
fall 2001): 13. to Create Integrated Services for Noel Richardson, Elspeth Slater, No
5 King, Ryan, and Marc Mauer, People with Co-Occurring Place Like Home: Housing and the Ex-
Distorted Priorities: Drug Offenders Disorders in the Justice System” prisoner, (white paper) (Boston, MA:
in State Prison, (Washington, D.C.: (Delmar, NY: National GAINS Community Resources for Justice,
The Sentencing Project, September Center, December 1999), 9. Boston, November, 2001), 6.
18 Petersilia, 5 37 Gudzowsky, 13.
6 Petersilia, Joan, “When Prisoners 19 Cho, Richard S., and Kristina Hals, 38 Petersilia, 5.
Return to the Community: Politi- Leaving Jail with No Place to Go 39 Hayes,10.
cal, Economic, and Social Conse- (Boston: AIDS Housing 40 Bradley, 6.
quences,” Sentencing and Corrections Corporation, July 1999), 4. 41 Ibid, 11.
20 Travis, Solomon, 22. 42 Travis, Solomon, 35.
(National Institute of Justice), no. 9
21 Ibid, 22. 43 Bradley, 3.
(November 2000): 1.
7 Travis, Solomon, and Waul, 17. 22 Kupers, Terry, M.D., Prison 44 Greater Boston Legal Services,
8 Gudzowsky, 13. Madness: The Mental Health Crisis “Housing Applicants with
9 Ibid., 14. Behind Bars and What We Must Criminal/Substance Abuse History”
10 Ibid., 13. Do About It (San Francisco: Jossey- (Boston: Greater Boston Legal
11 Post, Patricia, Hard to Reach: Rural Bass, 1999), xxii–xxiii. Services, 2002), 1-5.
23 Travis, Solomon, 4. 45 Bradley, 5.
Homelessness and Health Care (mono-
24 Gudzowsky, 13 46 Adolph Grant, interview by author,
graph) (Nashville, TN: National
25 Travis, Solomon, 20.
Health Care for the Homeless September 21, 2001, SPAN, Inc.,
26 Kupers, XVIII
Council, February 2002), 12. Boston, Mass.
12 Ross, Houkje, “HIV in Prisons 27 Ibid, XXIII.
28 Gudzowsky, 13.
is 5 Times the Rate of General
24 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
The ABCs of criminal justice
THE PROCESS AND VOCABULARY OF INCARCERATION
The criminal justice system is a foreign place to many of us, with
its own unfamiliar language. By learning basic terms and functions,
you will better understand ex-prisoners’ circumstances. You can also begin
to recognize how criminal justice systems themselves perpetuate instability
and lead to homelessness. This background knowledge will provide insight
as to where your organization’s efforts to reduce post-release homelessness
are most needed. Begin by following the steps on one prisoner’s journey
through the criminal justice system.
AT A G L AN C E 4
Joe’s journey through the criminal justice system
Arrest Joe is brought to a booking facility by a police officer.
Detention Joe waits in a jail for his arraignment.
Arraignment Joe attends a hearing that establishes his identity, informs him of the charges
and his rights, and requires him to enter a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.”
Pre-trial release The judge at the arraignment decides if Joe is eligible to be released on his
own recognizance (ROR) or required to pay bail. Either way, he will be
expected to make an appearance at court on a future designated date. If Joe
is not released on ROR or bail, he will remain in jail until his trial or adju-
Indictment If the case is being charged as a felony (a more serious charge) rather than as
a misdemeanor (a less serious charge), a group of 16 to 23 people, called a
Grand Jury, hears evidence presented by the district attorney (DA) and
decides if Joe should be tried for a felony. A formal written accusation is
submitted to the court by the Grand Jury, alleging that Joe committed a
Pre-trial diversion Joe’s attorney may use strategies to try to reduce his time in prison by act-
and adjudication ing prior to sentencing. Community-based treatment, for example, may be
sought in lieu of prosecution, in what is known as pre-trial diversion.
Adjudication is when sentencing is postponed until a defendant completes
a prescribed program.
Plea bargaining Joe may agree to bargain for a less serious charge under conditions negoti-
ated by the DA and Joe’s attorney. His attorney may try to get him a short-
er sentence, probation, or conditional release. If Joe plea bargains, he will
not go through a trial.
The ABCs of criminal justice | 25
If Joe does go to trial and is found guilty, the judge will impose a sentence Trial
determined by the crime. If he is sentenced to probation release, he will be
released to the custody of a probation agency for a specific length of time.
Joe will go jail or prison to serve his sentence. Incarceration
Joe will either “max out” his prison term or be released to parole supervi- Release
sion. If Joe is eligible for parole, a judge will release him early to the super-
vision of a parole board. The parole board will impose certain requirements
on Joe, such as that he abstain from drugs, get a job, and maintain a curfew.
CORRECTIONAL SYSTEMS: BEHIND WHICH BARS?
Jail is not the same as prison. They hold contrasting populations and
serve different functions. Perhaps the most significant distinction for read-
ers of this book is that prisoners leaving jail follow different patterns towards
homelessness than their counterparts leaving prison. This is because, in
general, the jail population in most states is much larger than the prison
population, serves shorter sentences, and, therefore, exits more frequently.
As a result, they are the principal group feeding into homeless shelters and
other destitute living situations. If this is true in your state, the county jail
system is perhaps the logical place to begin targeting a program to prevent
There is also an opposing argument for focusing housing on state
prisoners. While they are part of a smaller group that stays in prison longer
and, therefore, are released less frequently, state inmates may actually be bet-
ter candidates for rehabilitative programming. Advocates explain that indi-
viduals released from prison (the state system) are at an opportune point in
their lives at reentry. As they are more committed to succeeding on the out-
side, they are perhaps more likely to stabilize in supportive housing.
Furthermore, having lost more social ties over their longer sentences, state
prisoners are also possibly more vulnerable to homelessness and may need
Clearly, there is no one right correctional system to target for hous-
ing. There are sound arguments recommending both the jail population
and the state prisoners. It can be cumbersome to integrate both groups, as
there is such a need to become involved with the correctional institutions
where they originate. To choose the institutions with which you will affil-
iate, explore the paths toward homelessness of both populations in your par-
26 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
AT A G L AN C E 5
Correctional institutions compared
Institution Operated by Prisoners
Jail/ House Local counties This is the local system. It holds pris-
of Correction and their sheriffs oners for short time periods (some
states up to 1 year, others 2.5 years)
pending bail, trial, and sentencing.
The population is younger and more
likely to be in for drug-related
crimes. Generally, there is more
emphasis on rehabilitative programs,
but practices vary from one jail to the
next as each sheriff dictates. Note
that in some states, jails are only for
unsentenced people awaiting trial,
whereas houses of correction are for
State Prison State Departments This is the state system. It holds pris-
of Correction oners for longer sentences. In gener-
al, its prisoners are serving time for
more serious crimes. The population
is older and there are fewer releases
Federal Prison U.S. Government Holds a greater percentage of white-
collar criminals. Upon release, mem-
bers of this population sometimes
have bank accounts, careers, and
other resources to which they can
return. However, many federal pris-
oners are low-level drug offenders
who share the same poverty and
other characteristics as state prisoners.
The ABCs of criminal justice | 27
CORRECTIONAL SUPERVISION: WHO WATCHES THEM?
Parole and probation are systems of supervision that can help or
hinder efforts to prevent and resolve homelessness. As parole is the
system that oversees ex-prisoners’ reentry, it is the more significant of the
two for housing groups. A basic concept to understand about parole is that
the officers’ functions extend beyond law enforcement into rehabilitation.
Like you, parole officers are interested in seeing ex-prisoners succeed on
the outside. However, parole officers also have authority over the ex-pris-
oner and the system that you, as a community organization, do not have.
For example, parole can impose restrictions on what kind of housing is
acceptable for an ex-prisoner.
AT A G L AN C E 6
What are probation and parole?
Probation Occurs instead of, A sentence given by a judge in addition
or after, a jail to a jail sentence or as an alternative to
sentence incarceration, with certain conditions
for maintaining freedom.
Parole Occurs after a The conditional release of a prisoner
prison sentence with supervision for a prescribed peri-
od of time, granted by a parole board.
Parolee is expected to comply with
“conditions of release”— or a “green
Parole’s control over choices of housing can create more difficulties
for an ex-prisoner who already has few options for where to live. Or
it can be constructive, by rallying all the players, inside and out of the insti-
tution, to find the most appropriate setting. On a case-by-case basis, it is
possible to work with parole to adapt these restrictions to be most con-
structive for a particular individual.48
There are also other ways to exploit the power of parole to an ex-
prisoner’s advantage. For example, in many states, parole officers have
authority to delay release dates if “approved housing” has not been found.
In fact, it is often within their duty to ensure that parolees have approved
residences before release. By establishing strong relationships with local
parole officers, housing groups have collaborated to extend a release—that
is, keep someone behind bars for a few more days, so as to prevent the chaos
of homelessness in the first days out.
28 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
“With parole, you Parole can also reinforce stability after release. It can do so with a
have to know how to requirement that remaining at a certain address is a stipulation of condi-
work it right. It can tional release. If the new home is a healthy environment, this authority can
help an ex-prisoner choose stability over chaos. This is an area where, by
be a form of backup
getting to know the parole system, housing groups could advocate for such
or leverage in your a stipulation to make an individual’s exit from prison less chaotic.
efforts to help the
ex-prisoner.”50 Overall, it is clear that parole officers’ supervision has the potential
benefit of more structured transitions out of jail and prison.
However, few ex-prisoners themselves know how to “work” a parole board
to turn this structure to their advantage. By introducing your organization
to parole officers, visiting their offices, and generally making yourselves
available to them, you can bring parole officers onto your team of players,
working together to achieve residential stability for ex-prisoners.
However, parole’s inf luence is currently on the decline. The section
that follows explains the diminishing role of parole and the consequently
watered-down inf luence this form of supervision is now having during
AT A G L AN C E 7
Parole’s authority over conditional release 49
2. Travel bans
3. Drug testing
4. Employment requirements
5. Housing placements
The ABCs of criminal justice | 29
CHANGES TO PAROLE: WHY IS “MAXING OUT” NOW “IN”?
Today, parole officers do less social work than they once did. This
change resulted from new trends in sentencing, whereby prisoners are now
more likely to end incarceration abruptly, without the graduated elimina-
tion of supervision that occurs when parole is involved. The change came
about as a result of shifts from an old system of indeterminate sentencing to
a new system of determinate sentencing. The old system was criticized in
the 1980s and 1990s and lost credibility on account of racial biases and sub-
jective discretion that figured into decisions to release prisoners.51 Tough-
on-crime attitudes supported the new system of determinate sentencing.
Also, in many states, the mandatory sentencing laws of the last decade
changed the sentence structure such that inmates were discouraged from
taking parole even when they were entitled to it.
AT A G L AN C E 8
Forms of Prison Sentencing
“Maxing Out” New system Also known as determinate sentencing, it
Today, there is more
means automatic release when a sentence is
up. As a result, today more prisoners serve emphasis “on the law-
their full term (“max out”) than in the past, enforcement aspects of
and are released (“wrap up”) with no parole than its service or
supervision at all. rehabilitative function.”52
Indeterminate Old system A framework of open-ended sentences
Sentencing whereby a parole board has broad discre-
tion on whether to release prisoners or
keep them behind bars. In principle, pris-
oners are only let out if determined to be
rehabilitated or if they have ties to the
community. Release is a privilege to be
earned.53 Those who do not get “good
time” can max out of indeterminate sen-
tencing as well. Parolee is expected to com-
ply with “conditions of release”— or a
30 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
As a result of the shift to the new system, there are now many more
prisoners maxing out their sentences. Specifically, the number leaving
prison “unconditionally” has doubled since 1990.54 In California, there is
now no parole board to ask whether the prisoner is ready for release.55 This
is in a state with 125,000 prisoners released each year.56 In addition, those ex-
prisoners who still have parole officers are now lumped in as part of consid-
erably larger caseloads than in the past.57
As a result of this change, advocates now find that many of the mer-
its parole held for ex-prisoners are lost. They miss the parole board’s
discretion over releases and parole officers’ constructive relationships with
ex-prisoners. These trends towards dismantling parole are more complete
in some states than others. As each state is different, it is important to find
out what is happening to parole in your jurisdiction, and the extent of its
effect. You may find, as many advocates do across the country, that there is
now an incongruous pattern, wherein the most troubled prisoners are, in
fact, the most likely to leave incarceration unsupervised.
In examining the issue of parole, it is also important to know that
there are some huge deficits to parole supervision, particularly in
regard to the high percent of technical violations. In many states, it is
something of a toss-up whether parole does more harm than good.
Therefore, parole is not an unmitigated good. Done from a disproportion-
ately law-enforcement stance, it can do real damage.
The ABCs of criminal justice | 31
WHAT THE SYSTEM HAS TO OFFER
Does the correctional system itself have its own form of transition-
al residences? Although they are largely in the shadows, a few such pro-
grams can, in fact, be found. Their scarcity is a result of the national trend
of the last two decades, during which many such programs were cut or min-
imized. Nevertheless, before you start planning new post-release housing,
you should learn what transitional programs, if any, survived being disman-
tled in your state, and whether or not they are being contracted or expand-
ed today. If possible, go and visit one or two to learn who shows up there,
where they go after they leave, what services they receive, and how post-
release housing can strategically position itself in relation to these resi-
AT A G L AN C E 9
Kinds of residential programs sponsored by corrections
The System’s Description
Pre-release Step-down facilities, often located in residential
Programs areas, that allow for increasing levels of freedom
Community Pre-release programs located in neighborhoods
Corrections where prisoners are most likely to return
Halfway Houses Various forms of housing offered in some states to
Halfway Back A place that ex-prisoners who violate parole go to
Facilities as an alternative to returning all the way to prison
32 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
Another transitional service offered by some correctional institu-
tions, or by community-based organizations working within them,
is release counseling or discharge planning. The quality and availabili-
ty of such services vary, and they are more likely to be found in the jails.
Many are targeted at special populations such as people with HIV/AIDS.
Their drawbacks include frequent staff turnover, poor links to community-
based groups, lack of continuity of services after release, and an inability to
serve unsentenced offenders.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of release counseling sponsored by
corrections is that, while helpful, it is usually stingy with the assis-
tance offered. For example, prisoners are often given a piece of paper with
names and numbers of places from which to seek help upon release, but are
typically expected to make the contacts, follow up, and follow through all
on their own. Invariably, this is too little help. Still, it is worth finding out
the extent of release counseling that takes place within corrections in your
community. Explore the limits of what they provide and how you can link
them into your circle of plans for post-release housing.
R EAD M O R E 3
Critiques of the criminal justice system
1. Vera Institute of Justice. Online: www.vera.org
2. National Center on Institutions and Alternatives.
3. The National GAINS Center for People with Co-Occurring Disorders
in the Justice System. Online: www.gainsctr.com
Knowing jailhouse culture | 33
Knowing jailhouse culture
HOW PRISON HURTS
People are traumatized in prison in ways that those of us who have
never experienced it have diff iculty imagining. Beyond the obvious
pains of life behind bars, such as loss of freedom and privacy, there are many
dehumanizing experiences that impact lives long after a sentence behind
bars is over. These hurts teach prisoners to develop new ways of protecting
themselves. This coping behavior is the basis for what is known as “jail- “Prisons are closed
house culture,” and many ex-prisoners carry it with them into life on the settings. Anything can
outside. happen to people in
Staff in any organization that intends to serve ex-prisoners need, there. As service pro-
essentially, to study jailhouse culture. In fact, cultural competence in viders, we have got to
the area of jail culture must be equally important as are emphases on racial pry those doors open
and ethnic differences and characteristics. The idea is that, through under- and get ourselves
standing, staff can put aside preconceived notions or opinions about ex- inside.”58
prisoners that would interfere with their work. As a starting point, staff
need exposure to stories of the bad things that happen to people inside
34 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
AT A G L AN C E 10
Some of the traumas of prison life
“What most prisons 1. Isolation units (mentally ill prisoners are more likely than anyone else to
do to you when you end up in these units, which can produce trauma and psychosis even in
come in the gate [is healthy prisoners)
that] you lose what is 2. Use of force and restraint
special. You all wear 3. Arbitrary harassment
green. You all wear 4. Withholding information
a number. You are
5. Denying privileges and requests
all alike.” 61
6. Racist behavior from guards and fellow prisoners
7. Overcrowding (prisons now hold many times the number of prisoners
“I am horrified by for which they were designed)
the degree of violence 8. Displacement, when prisoners are transferred to facilities far away from
I witness [as a mental their communities to serve their sentence
health clinician] in 9. Dehumanizing living conditions
prisons. In the securi- 10. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and rape (the Federal Bureau of Prisons
ty [isolation] units, I estimates that 9-20 percent of prisoners are victims of sexual assault in
am shocked to see the prison, the aftereffects of which include post-traumatic stress disorder,
degree of psychosis.” 62 failure to participate in support services, and high incidence of social
failure and re-arrest)60
11. Language barriers
12. Loss of identity
13. Suicide attempts
Knowing jailhouse culture | 35
WHY THEY LOOK AND ACT THE WAY THEY DO “Prison constitutes
There are many coping mechanisms and social values learned in
prison. Among them is the so-called “prison face,” an expression that The meaner the pris-
comes to be worn by anyone in prison for a prolonged period. It is, essen- oner becomes the
tially, the meanest stare one can muster. By using this expression to look greater the chance
“mad and bad” all the time, prisoners hope to avoid a fight simply by of survival.” 66
appearing that they are willing to fight. Male prisoners, in particular, rein-
force this image by lifting weights and keeping their fears, pain, and other
The seeming craziness, the irrationality, of prison systems also inf lu-
ences prisoners’ behavior. Faced with rigid yet inconsistent rules govern-
ing their lives, rules that sometimes defy logic, many prisoners come to
believe, as one professional serving ex-offenders put it, “I have got to do
what I have got to do to get my needs met.”64 Ultimately, it becomes their
rule not to follow rules. As with other behaviors learned in prison, this prac-
tice is not necessarily abandoned upon release.
Other ways of adapting are induced by the presence of gangs in
many prisons. With gangs come a number of related racial tensions, and
these conf licts can follow an ex-prisoner into the community. To cope with
gangs, prisoners are forced to focus on finding a safe niche within the social
fabric of prisoners’ relationships. With this as a constant preoccupation,
improving themselves and their prospects for a better life on the outside
becomes irrelevant.65 This can explain the seemingly warped outlook of
those ex-prisoners who show little commitment to finding a job or other-
wise improving themselves.
36 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
AT A G L AN C E 11
Elements of jailhouse culture
1. A hierarchy of power among prisoners
2. Stronger prisoners prey on the weaker
3. Mentally ill prisoners are vulnerable
4. One prisoner’s will is imposed on another
5. People with disabilities are preyed upon
6. Jailhouse language
7. Jailhouse code of dress
8. Camaraderie against a common enemy
9. Special holidays
10. The nature of one’s criminal offense means a lot in the power structure
11. Certain crimes are frowned upon
12. Other crimes are glorified
13. Violent offenders earn power through fear
14. Fear is part of the power structure
Knowing jailhouse culture | 37
CLASHING WITH RULES OF SOCIET Y “There is this one guy
I am working with who
During reentry, ex-prisoners are expected to jettison methods they
used to get by in prison and adopt society’s rules and norms regard- feels he had the deck
ing their behavior and how they interact socially. The extent to which stacked against him
they succeed at this assimilation has enormous inf luence over the likelihood from birth. He wasn’t
of their staying out of prison. To encourage this adaptation, advocates spend brought up right. This
much time cajoling ex-prisoners to change their attitude, be honest, and
is true. He is angry at
follow rules. Although it is for their own good, from the ex-prisoners’ per-
spective, swapping jailhouse culture for these social norms is illogical. As America, and angry
most of them have little experience which demonstrates that abiding by at white people, and
social norms leads to success, it requires a leap of faith to do so.67 angry at the criminal
justice system, and
The clash of cultures ex-prisoners experience when rejoining socie- angry about going to
ty brings with it a turmoil of emotions. Resentment is often one of
their strongest first reactions They resent their inability to get basic prison. He is typical
resources for themselves, such as housing and a job. Believing their dues in that he is not a
were paid and time was done in prison, ex-prisoners feel entitled to fulfill sociopath. He is not
the basic necessities of life.68 Barriers to these opportunities are maddening. out to destroy anyone.
Anger, as will be explored later in this book, is therefore a dominant theme His anger does him
when working with ex-prisoners.
more harm than any-
Resistance to services is also common in exiting prisoners. It may be one else.”70
confusing to see the extent to which prisoners and ex-prisoners decline
services that might help them. Underlying this resistance is a fear of feeling
shackled and controlled. To accept services offered by any kind of reentry
program, ex-prisoners need to go against this natural tendency to reject
controlled environments.69 Moving into post-release housing directly from
prison goes against this inclination as well.
Blaming often emerges in ex-prisoners during reentry. For most of
them, bad things have been happening all their lives. Emerging from prison,
they enter a big world filled with people who represent, in their minds,
what was done to them over the years. Feeling furious at people, organiza-
tions, and institutions can be a constant state of mind.
38 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
SOME WERE HAPPIER BEHIND BARS
Ex-prisoners’ attitudes towards getting out of prison tend
towards two extremes. On the one hand, many despised being in an
institution and could not wait to leave. Others were actually attached to the
prison life, where they had friends and were socially accepted. They may
have developed the coping skills to survive in prison and are frightened at
being in the outside world. Upon release, some individuals have a secret
wish to go back. Those in this group may be embarrassed to admit they are
lonely for the life and friendships they had behind bars.
AT A G L AN C E 12
What they lose when released
1. A place to live
“In a very perverse
2. Consistent health care services
way, prison is a form
of secure, affordable 3. A support system
housing for many 4. Shared culture
prisoners who had 5. Friends
insecure, unsuitable 6. Structure
housing prior to their
7. Regular meals
8. A place to sleep
For each ex-prisoner, it is important to ascertain what kind of reac-
tion they have to being released. For example, do they miss prison and
are they, therefore, likely to go looking for the life and friendships they had
there? Or did they hate prison and are they, therefore, likely to react nega-
tively to anything that might remind them of it? To get this information,
you need to talk to ex-prisoners about being locked up. Illogically, many ex-
prisoners rarely get an opportunity to talk about this experience with any-
one other than those who shared it with them.
Knowing jailhouse culture | 39
AT A G L AN C E 13
Questions to ask ex-prisoners about life in prison
1. What is it really like in prison?
2. What kind of experiences did you have, good and bad, in there?
3. What did you go to jail for?
4. How does it feel to be out?
Talking with ex-prisoners about prison will help you understand
their ambivalence about being out. From that point, according to one
advocate, “our job becomes one of selling them on the straight life. We
need to tell them there is a better way. It is not going to be that bad to go
to work. There is another way to live.”72
AT A G L AN C E 14
How life changes from inside prison to the outside world 73
Few choices Overwhelming choices
Extreme sense of order Sense of disorder and chaos
FROM Numbing to TO World feels too fast
sameness to the day
Routines are Everyday life is confusing
familiar and and foreign
40 | From Locked Up to Locked Out
“People are scared WHEN HELPERS THINK EX-PRISONERS ARE BAD
blue of opening their
The cultural alienation experienced by ex-prisoners is further
housing programs to amplified by the way they are received by society. Even the most well-
someone that was intentioned helping professionals bring a lifetime of beliefs about criminals
locked up. Realisti- to their interactions with ex-prisoners. Many were taught to believe that
cally, ex-prisoners most people behind bars in the United States are inherently bad people.
Missing from this perspective is the insight that, while prisoners might look
can be a real handful
and sound antisocial, they are not usually sociopaths. Additionally, these
in a residential pro- days, most criminals have an underlying problem of addiction. It is impor-
gram. They behave tant for helpers not to forget that bad behavior is usually in some part a
differently from product of disease and deprivation.74
someone exiting other
kinds of institutions Housing programs also have their share of staff with good inten-
tions, but biased outlooks towards ex-prisoners. They have a particu-
such as detox.”75 lar fear of letting ex-prisoners exit directly from correctional institutions
into their housing programs. This anxiety is sometimes assuaged by a
requirement, known as screening, that ex-prisoners demonstrate an ability
to live outside of their correctional institution for a time before entering a
housing program. Some housing programs also demand that an extended
amount of “clean time” (time off of drugs) be demonstrated outside of bars
before an ex-prisoner is admitted to housing.
These particular screening practices are logical on the surface and
may ensure a more controlled residential environment.
Nevertheless, housing groups that employ such screening and clean-time
requirements should understand the arguments against them. For one, it is
illogical to require ex-prisoners to go somewhere and accomplish certain
goals after prison without the benefit of housing. Furthermore, imposing
more obstacles in the path that leads an ex-prisoner from lock-up to a home
is just adding to an already hazardous collection of circumstances. Chaos
during reentry, after all, contributes to homelessness in ex-prisoners, and it
is antithetical to amplify such risks through the policies of a housing pro-
Instead of relying on such screening practices, it is recommended
that housing groups use methods for improving their own cultural
competence in working with ex-prisoners, to improve their comfort with
the population. With knowledge about ex-prisoners and strategies for
working with them, housing programs will have better results with this
population than by using screening. In addition, “in-reaching” to prospec-
tive residents while they are still behind bars, to be discussed further in this
book in sections that follow, will also build staff members’ trust in ex-pris-
oners as future residents of their housing program.
Knowing jailhouse culture | 41
KNOWLEDGE REPLACES FEAR “Some people are drawn
to work with ex-prison-
The only way to be rid of bias towards ex-prisoners is to replace it
with insight into the population and ideas for how to be successful ers. They are not afraid
with them. Community groups who will provide services to ex-prisoners of these guys. They do
can start by realizing that fear goes both ways. It takes enormous courage for not see people who went
ex-prisoners just to get in the door of any kind of post-release program. to prison as these awful
Expect them to come in seeming angry and tough, to mask the extent to
which they are scared.
To counteract the fear each side holds for the other, your organization
can learn culturally competent techniques to establish trust with ex-prisoners
at the outset of your relationship with them. With these techniques, ex-pris-
oners will shed their protective armor more readily. As you begin to know
them as people, there will be less fear all around. Ultimately, you will be the
one to encourage other organizations to drop their assumptions about ex-
prisoners and accept ex-prisoners into their fold.
AT A G L AN C E 15
Establishing trust with ex-prisoners 77
1. Create an intensely welcoming atmosphere for ex-prisoners.
2. Furnish and decorate entryways to buildings to be homelike.
3. At first meetings, show tremendous, almost formal, respect to ex-pris-
4. Tell ex-prisoners how glad you are to meet them.
5. Demonstrate to ex-prisoners a sense of attachment to “their side” and
of detachment from correctional institutions.
6. Pay formal attention to explaining ex-prisoners’ rights and protections.
7. Be prompt with every appointment and reliable with every commit-
ment (distinguishes you from treatment by prison guards).
8. Be consistent in how rules are enforced.
9. Explain why you do things the way you do.
10. In interviews, sit across from ex-prisoners in chairs, instead of behind
desks or tables.
11. Take care to avoid the look of an institution in every detail of your
12. Make an effort to hire ex-prisoners as staff.