Here’s how David Kirk, sociology professor at the University of Oxford and author of the study, sums up his findings:
In America, the prison system releases 650,000 people back into society each year. A significant share of the released tend to cluster in a few, extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods. It’s hard to test what would happen if these reentry patterns were different, but living conditions in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina gave Kirk that unique chance.Put simply, the alarming rates of recidivism in the United States are partly a consequence of the fact that many individuals being released from prison ultimately reside in the same neighborhoods as other former felons.
The disaster destroyed a lot of property, and in doing so, geographically redistributed the former-prisoner population. Instead of concentrating in the same places as they had before Katrina, ex-prisoners released after the storm spread out across new neighborhoods. Kirk compared the re-incarceration rates in neighborhoods that had seen a change in parolee concentration to ones that hadn’t, both before and after the hurricane. Here’s what he found:
The results of my analyses suggest the greater the concentration of ex-prisoners in a neighborhood, the greater the rate of subsequent recidivism. I find that concentrating former prisoners in the same neighborhoods leads to significantly higher recidivism rates than if ex-prisoners were more dispersed across neighborhoods.Dispersing parolees across neighborhoods means that, to some extent, incarceration and recidivism rates will also rise in neighborhoods that gain ex-prisoners. The graph below illustrates this point: for each additional parolee per 1,000 residents in a neighborhood, the rate of re-incarceration rises about 11 percent. But after controlling for other factors that come into play across neighborhoods, Kirk found that net recidivism still came down.
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