The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Impact of the Risk Environment On the Reentry Process for Persons with Serious Mental Illnesses Leaving Prison

Friday, January 18, 2013: 11:30 AM
Executive Center 2A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Stacey Barrenger, Doctoral Student, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Jeff Draine, PhD, Professor, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
Beth Angell, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Returning to the community after a prison stay is challenging as individuals attempt to manage the competing needs of finding food and shelter, acquiring income, reconnecting with family and friends, and meeting criminal justice obligations. These tasks can be even more difficult for those also managing a mental illness and can be further complicated in a context that poses environmental, social, physical, or political risk towards re-offending. While individual level characteristics contributing to recidivism have been well explored, little research has examined the environmental level characteristics that contribute to recidivism and how the process of reentry is affected by these factors. This paper examines the role of the risk environment on the reentry process for persons with serious mental illnesses leaving prison.

METHODS: In-depth and go-along interviews were conducted with participants (N = 28) in a randomized control trial testing the effects of an evidence-based intervention, Critical Time Intervention (CTI), on men being released from prison. Participants completed at least one and up to six interviews in order to capture the different stages of reentry and to track the reentry process for individuals. Data were analyzed iteratively using a constructivist grounded theory approach.

RESULTS: The risk environment posed significant challenges for participants in acquiring basic needs, including income and housing. Some challenges posed by the risk environment included punitive public and social policies that limited or excluded resources to individuals based on their criminal history. The reentry process was further complicated for some by continued entanglement with the criminal justice system resulting from either the commission of new crimes or newly issued warrants stemming from failure to pay past court fees or fines often resulting in a jail stay. These jail stays often disrupted progression through other systems such as health care, entitlements, or work. In these ways, the risk environment created barriers in accessing important resources. However, participants who could rely on family for concrete or emotional support were insulated from some aspects of the risk environment, as their reliance on public services was not as crucial to their basic survival.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: The risk environment poses challenges for persons with mental illness returning to the community from prison as access to entitlements and resources can be affected by their criminal histories. In addition, continued entanglement with the criminal justice system negates progress towards reintegration in the community. Some of these risks can be ameliorated by family support. Interventions for persons with mental illness leaving prison need to consider elements in the risk environment that can affect community stability. Additionally, potentially punitive public policies that limit access to resources for persons with serious mental illnesses leaving prison need to be amended to ensure basic needs.