Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Institutional Logics during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multisystemic Engagement with Inmates Released En-Masse (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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513P (WITHDRAWN) Institutional Logics during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multisystemic Engagement with Inmates Released En-Masse

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Toorjo Ghose, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Alison Neff, DSW, Assistant Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Ginneh Akbar, DSW, Assistant Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA
Noam Keim, MA, Program Coordinator, University of Pennsylvania, The Center for Carceral Communities, Philadelphia, PA
Background: With 4000 people incarcerated in its jails, Philadelphia has one of the largest incarcerated populations in the world. Results from China and New York indicate that compared to the general population, COVID-19 infection rates are almost seven times higher in jails. Recent research suggests that 60-80% of those incarcerated are already COVID-19 positive, with almost half of them being asymptomatic. Philadelphia’s move to release almost 300 inmates a week, well after incidence had spiked and social service agencies had shut down, created a public health risk for released inmates, and the communities they were released into. This research examines a multilevel and multi-systemic intervention (called GAINS-Plus) implemented at a re-entry agency, to address this public health risk environment. Employing smartphones, Zoom technology, teletherapy, a multi-city policy development protocol, and an ad-hoc partnership between service providers, funders, and academic scholars, the city-wide protocol was a scale-up of an intervention study already being conducted at the agency, allowing the investigators to collect data in real-time. The study is ongoing, and we present our findings in the hope that the study will inform our evolving response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Methods: We utilized a mixed methods approach, collecting qualitative data from service providers (n=15), city officials (n=10), and people released from incarceration (n=30). We supplemented these with field notes from meetings with city officials, jail staff, and service providers (n=17). Finally, we are conducting surveys among released people (n=100, three-monthly, for one year, 15 baseline interviews completed). We utilized a grounded theory approach with sensitizing concepts to code interviews and notes, and are using a random effects longitudinal model to analyze the quantitative data. Concepts from the theory of institutional logics were used to inform sensitizing concepts in the qualitative analysis, and to interpret the results.

Results: Competing logics from the fields of re-entry, city government, the incarceration system, academia, social movements, and distinct city ecologies, catalyzed by the pandemic crisis, destabilized status-quo institutional “myths and rituals”, allowing several innovations to take shape at multiple levels. At the client level, released prisoners were handed out smart phones loaded with Zoom, without any conditions. Participants had the freedom to script their own engagement with services, and with peer collectives that formed online. The innovative platform and form of engagement facilitated large-scale attendance and utilization of services. At the organizational level, agencies set aside onerous eligibility criteria and paperwork, to form a network providing front-line services around housing, food, mental and primary healthcare. At the policy level, the administrations of two cities (Philadelphia and New York), collaborated on the replication of successful housing-first and risk reduction strategies for released inmates that had been implemented in New York.

Implications: Our findings highlight the role of crises in shaping institutional logics, and specifically, in the way the pandemic has forced embedded actors, institutional ideologies, social movements, and city-specific fields to interact to create innovation. The results also create a blueprint for social workers and agencies, for a multi-systemic and multilevel engagement with the pandemic.