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.