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Jeffrey Morenoff photo

Reintegration of Formerly Incarcerated Young Adults

a PSC Research Project

Investigator:   Jeffrey Morenoff

Intellectual Merit: Over the last two decades, the number of individuals incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United States has risen dramatically. As a result, over 700,000 prisoners are released each year. Released prisoners are disadvantaged educationally, economically, and socially, and the prison boom has been linked to increasing inequality in the US. Incarceration is disproportionately experienced by young, low skill, African-American males, and has important consequences. For those seeking to understand the experiences of young adults from poor urban communities, the criminal justice system is arguably now as important as the education system or the labor market.

Despite the magnitude of the increase in incarceration and the new scope of the criminal justice system, social scientists are only beginning to understand the consequences of these changes for the experiences of the young men and women whom they directly affect. The life course framework ? which focuses on the role of salient life events in structuring developmental trajectories and life transitions ? suggests that incarceration may be particularly consequential for those making the transition to adulthood. During this period, roughly age 18-25, critical life events typically occur, including school completion, first full-time employment, leaving the childhood household, and marriage and childbearing. Because incarceration separates individuals from social networks and interrupts schooling and employment, it has the potential to delay or preclude key life transitions and significantly alter trajectories.

This project addresses critical gaps in the literatures on prisoner reentry and on the transition to adulthood among vulnerable populations: the role of social contexts. First, what we know about reconstructing one?s life after incarceration is mostly based on individual-level factors such as criminal history. Moreover, this research rarely focuses on the challenges facing people released during the transition to adulthood. Second, we know little about the role of social contexts in the transition to adulthood generally, and nothing about the importance of social contexts for formerly incarcerated young adults. This project investigates the role of two key contexts ? neighborhoods and households ? in the transition to adulthood among formerly incarcerated young people. Our aims are as follows:
1. Investigate the social and institutional processes that sort formerly incarcerated young adults into more or less advantaged and disadvantaged social contexts ? neighborhoods and households ? after their release from prison.
2. Examine the effects of neighborhood and household contexts on outcomes critical to the transition to adulthood, including employment, schooling, substance use, and further criminal justice system involvement.

Perhaps the primary reason for lack of research on this subpopulation is the difficulty in obtaining appropriate data. Involvement in the criminal justice system is not consistently measured in traditional social science datasets, and criminal justice data contain little information on social contexts or outcomes other than recidivism. To accomplish these aims, we will collect new administrative data on a cohort of individuals age 18 to 25 released on parole from Michigan prisons in 2003 and followed prospectively through 2009. At the conclusion of this project, these data will be made available to other researchers through the Inter-University Consortium on Political and Social Research (ICPSR).

Broader Impacts: (A) Through a better understanding of neighborhoods and household contexts, we can begin to develop educational, labor market, and other social institutions that meet the developmental needs of young adults involved in the criminal justice system. We will write policy briefs that will communicate our findings to policymakers, practitioners, and the public. (B) This project will make a significant contributi

Funding Period: 04/01/2011 to 03/31/2014

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