Helping the Formerly Incarcerated Integrate Into the Community – and Stay Out of Prison
For years, Louisiana incarcerated more people per capita than anywhere in the world. At an annual rate of more than $17,000 per inmate, incarceration costs Louisiana taxpayers almost $700 million each year,1 and nearly 36 percent of formerly incarcerated persons return to prison within three years of their exits.2
Since 2004, the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation has funded programs to reduce the barriers hindering the successful return of individuals to communities in Louisiana. While it may be easy to forget people behind bars, 95 percent of those imprisoned will return to our communities.3 Recidivism – the subsequent commission of a crime and reincarceration – affects every member of the community.
In 2015, the foundation embarked on a journey to become more strategic in its prison re-entry work. We recognized that in order to achieve a large-scale reduction in recidivism rates, it would be insufficient for the foundation to continue to provide small, direct-service grants. The foundation partnered with The Rensselaerville Institute to develop a Strategic Results Framework with two goals in mind: to become an investor in outcomes rather than a funder of activities, and to create an initiative focused on supporting the success of returning citizens. These two ideas came together in the form of the three-year, $3 million Prison Reentry Initiative.
One of the keys to the Initiative was a shift in the foundation’s decision-making approach: from funding of activities to investing in results. Applications for the Initiative were evaluated from the perspective of an investor answering three critical questions:
- What results are being proposed?
- How likely is it that this group can achieve the proposed results?
- Is this the best possible use of foundation funds?
The foundation recently released Creating a Continuum of Care for the Formerly Incarcerated to reflect on the transformations, achievements and learnings of the foundation and grantee partners. Over the course of the Initiative, 531 formerly incarcerated people reported living successfully in the community at three years post-incarceration. Other significant results included an increase in the number of local employers hiring returning citizens and an increase in the number of people aware of the ineffectiveness, inequity and costs of the criminal justice system, many of whom signed up to become advocates and mentors.
Throughout the Initiative, the partners reflected internally on successes and challenges to improve their programs. In addition, the foundation gathered partners quarterly to learn from one another. Partners were considered successful when they both achieved results and applied learnings. Some learnings were small, such as ensuring programming was held at a time convenient for program participants. Other learnings were more challenging: housing, education and employment are all interrelated and compounded by criminogenic thinking—the tendency to return to criminal activity.
While the partners reflected, the foundation also experienced learning through the process. The Strategic Results Framework was very different from the grantmaking process the foundation had previously used. It takes time and multi-channel, effective communication for everyone – staff and partners – to understand and embrace a new model. The foundation also worked hard to establish different relationships with our partners so that all parties truly felt like partners in the process and not just a grantee.
This work did not happen in a vacuum. The State of Louisiana embarked on historic bipartisan criminal justice reforms during this period. During Year 1, the state convened a Justice Reinvestment Task Force to explore the drivers of mass incarceration and policy solutions. Year 2 saw the state’s Legislature pass the Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package, with implementation following in Year 3. The Initiative partners were operating in a season rich in dialogue on the impact of mass incarceration and barriers to successful reentry.
In 2012, well before the Initiative, the State of Louisiana incarcerated 893 people per capita, with an inmate headcount of 40,170, and spent more than $663 million annually on corrections.4 By the end of 2018, the incarceration rate had fallen to 712 per capita, with 32,397 incarcerated, and had realized savings from two fiscal years totaling $29 million.5 The foundation cannot claim this success as its own but does believe the efforts of our partners contributed greatly to these successes.
A falling inmate headcount means more individuals are returning to our communities and will need support to achieve their full potentials. While the Initiative has ended, the foundation continues its commitment to eliminating barriers to successful reintegration. We invite individuals and organizations working to support our fellow citizens to reach out to us and our partners. We have much to learn from one another.
Tristi Charpentier is vice president of strategic initiatives at the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation.
1 Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Louisiana Justice Reinvestment Package. Retrieved from doc.louisiana.gov.
2 Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. Recidivism in Adult Corrections. Retrieved from doc.louisiana.gov.
3 Bureau of Justice Statistics. Reentry Trends in the U.S. Retrieved from bjs.gov/content/reentry/reentry.cfm.
4Chang, C. (2012, May 13). Louisiana is the world’s prison capital. The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/05/ louisiana_is_the_worlds_prison.html.
5Department of Public Safety and Corrections. (2019, June) Louisiana’s Justice Reinvestment Reforms 2019 Annual Performance Report.