More than half of the ex-offenders released from Illinois prisons end up returning to only seven Chicago communities, including Austin, a new report shows.
The Urban Institute, a Washington-based policy research group, found that the West Side is the primary destination for ex-offenders. Of the 54 percent of returnees, Austin, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park and Humboldt Park received a majority. South Side communities West Englewood, Roseland and Auburn Gresham were the remaining communities.
The institute surveyed 400 men averaging 34 years old. Researchers found that the majority of men surveyed said the communities are unprepared to handle their return.
“The communities that they are returning to often lack resources to help reintegrate them back into society,” said Urban Institute Researcher Christy Visher, co-author of “Chicago Communities and Prisoner Reentry.”
The former inmates cited a lack of housing and available jobs as their primary concerns, she said. Seventy five percent were living with someone other than family. Sixteen percent lived in their own home. Only five percent were living in a shelter or rooming house. And one respondent reported being homeless in his first six months.
“They would desperately like to have their own place, but they don’t have the resources, so they end up moving back home, said Visher concerning most respondents. “In doing so, they become an extra burden to their families, who themselves are struggling to make ends meet.”
Many of the men, she said, have little or no money upon their release, and can’t afford first or last month’s rent for a new place. Finding a place to live, in some cases, require ex-offenders to submit to background checks and provide references, which tend to prove problematic for a former inmate.
The report indicates that 41 percent of ex-offenders said finding a place to live was never addressed in their mandatory prerelease program.
Finding work is also difficult. After their first six months, roughly half are still unemployed, Visher said.
“Many were working before they were incarcerated. It’s not like they’ve never worked. They want to work. They want to make their own way, but it’s very difficult for them,” she said.
Based on those surveyed, Visher suggested that more engagement from community organizations is needed. West Side organizations such as Eyes on Austin have some programs in place to help ex-offenders. The community-based organization is currently working with 10 ex-offenders who live in Austin.
Roman Prillo, a case manager with Eyes on Austin, said the ex-offenders he sees do eventually find some kind of work and a place to stay.
“They have to be realistic. A guy looking to make $20 an hour; he’s not going to find that job,” Prillo said. “Those jobs aren’t readily available to them. They’re not going to come out and live in some luxury home. It may just be a room. They have to start somewhere.”
To view the Urban Institute’s report on former prisoners returning to Chicago, visit its website at www.urban.org and click on “New Reports/Events” link near top of the page.