Boston Reentry Study

The Boston Reentry Study (BRS) is a collaborative project led by Bruce Western, Anthony Braga, and Rhiana Kohl (Research Unit, Massachusetts Department of Correction).

The study is a longitudinal survey of Massachusetts state prisoners newly-released to the Boston area. With support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and Harvard University, the BRS collects data on 122 men and women, first interviewing them a week before prison release, and then repeatedly over the following year. The BRS yields exceedingly rich data on a key life transition for a sample of men and women from poor, urban communities.

The data collection combines a panel survey, qualitative interviews, interviews with family members, and linkage to administrative records on criminal history and program participation. The interviews and supplementary data collections aim to provide a detailed picture of householding, employment, health, family history, and criminal involvement of people returning to their communities from prison.

The sample itself is demographically diverse, including men and women ranging in age from 19 to 59. About half of the study sample is African American, nearly a third is white, and the remainder is Latino. Unlike other recent reentry studies, which have largely focused on parolees, the BRS includes a significant number of former prisoners who have completed their sentences and been released without supervision, in addition to those on probation or parole. With data collection nearly complete, the BRS has also managed to maintain a very high rate of study retention. A high response rate with a large and diverse study sample will allow for a more complete understanding of respondents’ experiences of social integration after release from prison.

Early results through the first two months after prison release indicate the obstacles to social integration. Over half the BRS sample left incarceration with less than $400, about a third went to unstable or temporary housing (in shelters, transitional housing programs, motels, or on the street), and fewer than half were in paid employment after two months. Independent housing and full-time employment were very rare in the first two months after prison release. While released prisoners were materially insecure, two key supports are indicated in the data. First, respondents reported a high rate of enrollment in public assistance. Two months after prison release, around 70 percent of respondents were enrolled in food stamps or some other social program. Second, over half the sample obtained significant support from family. Nearly two-thirds reported receiving money from family in the first week after release. After two months in the community, over half the sample was living with family members.

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Boston Reentry Study word cloud

Answers to the question:  What's the best part of being out? from the Boston Reentry Study (full size)

Bruce Western, Anthony Braga, David Hureau, and team of researchers discussing their work

Clockwise from bottom left are: Catherine Sirois, Caroline Burke, Bruce Western, Jaclyn Davis, Tracy Shollenberger, Anthony Braga, Jessica Simes, and David Hureau.

Photograph by Jim Harrison, Harvard Magazine