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Inclusive housing policies for exiting prisoners will ‘stabilize neighborhoods,’ report says

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Expanding post-incarceration resources will help create stronger neighborhoods

A residential street with mature trees on the parkway, a concrete sidewalk, and two-story brick houses with green grass in the front yard. Shutterstock

New housing policies that ensure stable conditions for people leaving prison could prevent them from getting incarcerated again and save the state money, says a new report.

The report is the culmination of the 3-year effort from the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Justice Project. Together the organizations looked at state policies and current challenges before laying out recommendations for how to reduce recidivism.

In Illinois, billions are spent to send men and women to prison, but there are very few resources to keep them from returning, according to the Re-Entry Housing Issues in Illinois report. Nearly 40 percent of people return to prison in just three years which costs taxpayers $150,000 each time. About 60 percent of homeless people in Chicago were previously in prison.

Roughly 28,000 people leave the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) and most must find housing on their own which often doesn’t lead to stability.

“The Illinois Housing Department Authority, already hard-pressed to meet the state’s need for permanent supportive housing, does not have the resources to service the needs of the vast majority of those exiting secure facilities and in need of housing, particularly those with substance abuse and/or mental illness problems,” the study says.

More than 60 organizations that regularly interact with those leaving prison contributed to the information detailed in the report. It is also the first time that IDOC and IHDA have reviewed their re-entry policies. The biggest challenges communicated to the researchers centered around affordable housing shortages, restricted housing options, and discrimination.

To address these issues, the report suggests 15 ways city and state agencies can expand housing options for exiting prisoners. Those include:

  • Create a new rental subsidy program for those with physical and mental health needs, similar to the FUSE program.
  • Keep people who have short sentences out of prison
  • For non-violent offenders, eliminate restrictions that ban them from public housing
  • Offer landlords tax incentives who rent to people leaving IDOC of the Cook County Jail
  • Invest in pre-release job and life skills training so that more people are informed and successful when they leave
  • Increase support for transition programs offered by St. Leonard’s Ministries, A Safe Haven, and Oxford House

The costs of recidivism disproportionately affect people of color. Of those in IDOC, 55 percent are African-American and 13 percent are Hispanic. When they are released, most former inmates return to familiar neighborhoods where they previously lived. In Chicago, which is highly segregated, that could mean they are heading back to neighborhoods that have a history of redlining, disinvestment, and a lack of resources.

Those who can’t find housing or jobs become a “disruptive force in the community” and often return to prison. A system with policies that ensure these basic necessities will then strengthen and “stabilize neighborhoods,” the report said.