Returning Home Study: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry

From 2001 to 2006, the Urban Institute's longitudinal, multistate study Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry explored the pathways of prisoner reintegration. The study examined the factors contributing to successful (or unsuccessful) reentry, to understand the reentry experiences of returning prisoners, their families, and their communities.

Returning Home documented the challenges of prisoner reentry along five dimensions: the individual, family, peer, community, and state. The study involved

  • interviews with returning prisoners before and after release from state correctional facilities,
  • interviews with family members of those returning prisoners,
  • focus groups with residents of the neighborhoods to which most prisoners returned, and
  • interviews with reentry policymakers and practitioners.

State laws and policies regarding reentry were also reviewed to provide policy context.

Returning Home began with a pilot study in Baltimore, Maryland (2001–03), followed by studies in Chicago, Illinois (2002–04), Cleveland, Ohio (2004–05), and Houston, Texas (2004–06).

Key Findings

The Returning Home studies in Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas yielded information regarding the experiences of returning prisoners, their families, and their communities. Major findings from the Returning Home study include the following:


The Returning Home study targeted prisoners serving at least one year in state correctional facilities who were returning to the communities of interest. The goals in each site were to collect information on people's life circumstances immediately before, during, and up to one year after their release.

Potential respondents were identified through compulsory prerelease programs where prisoners were already convened (Illinois and Texas) or from lists of individuals who were within 60 days of release (Maryland and Ohio). Members of the research team provided an overview of the study and details of informed consent to assembled groups of potential respondents. Study samples were recruited in 2002 in Maryland, in 2002 and 2003 in Illinois, and in 2004 and 2005 in Ohio and Texas.

Quantitative information collected on returning prisoners in each site included data from self-administered prerelease questionnaires; up to three in-person post-release interviews; family questionnaires in Illinois, Maryland, and Texas; and official recidivism records from state correctional agencies. In addition, qualitative information was collected from focus groups and stakeholder interviews in each of the targeted communities.