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Neighborhood is key factor in recidivism rates for ex-offenders in Arkansas

Dr. Michael Craw and Dr. Tusty ten Bensel

The neighborhood that a person recently released from prison lives in is a key factor in whether that person will eventually return to prison, according to a study by two professors at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

In their study, “There Goes the Neighborhood? Crime, Blight and Recidivism,” Tusty ten Bensel, associate professor of criminal justice, and Michael Craw, associate professor of public administration, examined whether ex-offenders being released into disadvantaged neighborhoods increased the likelihood of them returning to prison.

“Crime does not happen in a vacuum,” ten Bensel said. “Our study indicates that the neighborhood conditions in which ex-offenders return to significantly impacts recidivism. There are individual characteristics that can predict recidivism, but we also have to remember what kind of neighborhoods they return to. If we are worried about crime in Little Rock, we should think about what we can we do to help these people succeed once they get out of prison and reenter society.”

It is estimated that 80 to 95 percent of the inmate population will eventually be released from prison, yet most of those inmates (76.6 percent) wind up back in prison within five years, according to a National Institute of Justice study. In Arkansas alone in 2016, approximately 55 percent of those released were rearrested for committing a violation under supervision.

“Studies have consistently found that ex-offenders released from prison are likely to return to the same socially isolated and economically impoverished neighborhoods prior to incarceration,” ten Bensel said. “These types of communities tend to have lower access to health care and social services, high unemployment, mortality, and drug addiction rates. Individuals living in disadvantaged neighborhoods have a greater likelihood of engaging in criminal behaviors.”

The professors studied data collected from the Arkansas Department of Corrections consisting of 4,246 ex-offenders returning to Little Rock between 2008 and 2015. They collected information on disorder in neighborhoods and crime information through Little Rock’s Department of Housing and Neighborhood Programs and Planning Department as well as the Little Rock Police Department.

Craw and ten Bensel found that ex-prisoners who lived in neighborhoods with more disorder, as measured by code violations, returned to prison sooner than those who did not. Meanwhile, ex-prisoners who lived in neighborhoods with more homeowner reinvestment, measured by building permits for renovations, additions to single family homes, and fewer housing vacancies, returned to prison later, if at all, than those who lived in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“There tends to be less recidivism in well-organized neighborhoods that invest back in their communities, which reduces the propensity for an ex-offender to return to prison,” Craw said. “It goes back to social ties. Ex-offenders that have strong social ties have a better chance of reentering society than if they are in a place where they are socially isolated.”

Most ex-offenders who are released from prison do not have access to the resources they need to get their lives back on track, which often leads to a never-ending cycle.

“Ex-offenders come out of prison and try to seek employment but often can’t because of their record,” ten Bensel said. “If they do get a job, they don’t have a car and may end up getting fired because they have difficulty going to work. They walk up and down the street and see the same friends doing the same things that landed them in prison in the first place. For example, if you go to prison for drugs, and you come out and can’t get a job, can’t pay your rent or for health insurance, you are going to see drug dealing as the easy way out.”

The study is funded by a Research Cluster Seed Grant from UA little Rock ten Bensel and Craw received in 2016.