Empirical evidence shows that most individuals released from prison will return there for new crimes or technical violations within three years of being released (Langan and Levin, 2002). What results, then, is a cycle of removal and return in communities with already large concentrations of social and economic disadvantage. Generally, this phenomenon occurs in poor, predominately minority communities with low levels of educational attainment. The churning population of offenders into and out of the community severely affects the families left behind and the public health of the community at large. Such communities characteristically are areas plagued with high unemployment, staggering crime rates, high rates of substance abuse and mental illness; and a prevalence of fragile families.
In a one state study of families on Temporary Assistance for Need Families (TANF), Kirby, Fraker, Pavetti and Kovac (2003) found that more than one in every three TANF clients (36 percent) had been arrested during the previous six years, and nearly one in every five TANF clients (18 percent) has been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor. Arrest and conviction are considered potential liabilities to increasing family economic stability through employment. The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) in New York City supports an employment program for former prisoners that aims to reduce recidivism through steady employment. It is part of the Enhanced Services for the Hard-to-Employ Demonstration and Evaluation project, sponsored by the Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) and ASPE with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. Interim results from MDRC’s rigorous impact evaluation of CEO show reduced recidivism in both the first and the second year of follow-up among former prisoners considered to be at highest risk of recidivism (Zweig, Yahner, and Redcross, 2010).