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Texas Prisoners' Reflections on Returning Home, Urban Institute, 2005

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Ⅲ Most Texas prisoners in the

study had extensive criminal
histories, with 63 percent having been convicted more than
once in the past and 35 percent serving time for a parole
or probation violation.
Ⅲ Many prisoners had significant

educational and employment
deficits: 45 percent did not
have a high school degree or
equivalent upon entering prison
or state jail and over half had
been fired from a job in the
past. Despite these deficiencies, at least 9 percent obtained their GED during
incarceration and 15 percent
had a job lined up for after
their release.
Ⅲ Eighty percent of prisoners

reported illegal drug use prior to
their incarceration (mostly
cocaine and marijuana), yet only
21 percent participated in a specific drug or alcohol treatment
program while incarcerated.3
(Continued on page 2)

2100 M STREET, N.W.


n 2002, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice released 58,949
people from prisons and state jails across the state, nearly six times the
number of prisoners released in 1980.1 Texas alone, with one of the
largest prison populations in the country, accounts for almost 10 percent
of all prisoners released from state and federal prisons nationwide each
year.2 The sheer number of prisoners released annually, along with a
growing appreciation for the substantial challenges that ex-prisoners face
as they reenter society, has brought prisoner reentry—both in Texas and
nationwide—to the forefront of the public agenda.

To help inform the next generation of reentry policy and practice, the Urban
Institute launched Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner
Reentry, a multistate research project in Maryland, Illinois, Ohio, and Texas. The
purpose of Returning Home is to develop a deeper understanding of the reentry
experiences of returning prisoners, their families, and their communities. This
research project involves interviews with prisoners before and after their release
from state correctional facilities, interviews with ex-prisoners’ family members,
focus groups with residents in neighborhoods to which many prisoners return,
and interviews with community stakeholders. State laws and policies are also
reviewed to provide overall policy context. (For more details on the study
methodology, see page 11.)
This report presents findings from surveys completed by 676 prisoners shortly
before their release from Texas prisons and state jails and their return to the
Houston area. We present descriptive statistics on respondents’ criminal, substance abuse, and employment histories; current health problems; in-prison
programming experiences; relationships with family members; and expectations
for release. Differences among respondents based on gender and type of confinement (i.e., prison or state jail) are highlighted in sidebars. Overall, these
findings describe a population with extensive histories of substance use and
criminal behavior, yet strong family ties and great optimism for what life will
be like on the outside.
These preliminary findings represent the views and experiences of 676 Texas
prison and state jail releases—414 men and 262 women. With regard to the


cent of the sample was Hispanic or Latino/Latina (of any
race). The average age at the time of the prerelease interview was 36 years old.

(Continued from page 1)
Ⅲ Female prisoners had more serious histories of drug

use than male prisoners, but were less likely to
have received substance abuse treatment.
Ⅲ Prisoners had positive views of their health, with

79 percent rating it as “good” or “excellent,” yet
notable shares reported having been diagnosed with
chronic or infectious diseases, as well as depression or other mental illnesses.
Ⅲ State jail confinees had lower levels of self-esteem

and control over their lives than state prisoners and
were less likely to have supportive family relationships.
Ⅲ Family was the greatest anticipated source of finan-

cial resources, housing, and emotional support after
release. Expectations for family reunification were
high; 80 percent believed it would be easy to renew
relationships with their children.

demographic characteristics of our sample, 58 percent of
the respondents were black, 26 percent were white, and
16 percent were from other racial groups. Sixteen per-

Most respondents reported having long histories of
involvement with the criminal justice system. 4 More
than half (53 percent) were first arrested at age 18 or
younger and one-quarter had served time in a juvenile
facility. As adults, 81 percent had been convicted more
than once, 63 percent had been in prison or state jail at
least once before, and 56 percent had their parole or
probation revoked at least once. Regarding their current prison or state jail terms, over half of the sample
(52 percent) was convicted of drug offenses—37 percent for drug possession and 15 percent for drug dealing (figure 1). Twenty-four percent were convicted for
property crimes,5 9 percent for violent offenses, and
the remaining 15 percent for other offenses. Fortythree percent of respondents had been serving time in
prison or state jail because of a parole or probation
violation, with 19 percent returned for technical
violations and 24 percent returned for new crimes

Figure 1. Distribution of Study Sample by Self-Reported Conviction Offense (N = 674)

Drug possession






Drug sale









committed while on probation or parole. The average
length of incarceration was about 24 months, with
76 percent of respondents serving two years or less.
A very small share of respondents (4 percent) reported
involvement with a gang prior to their prison term;
of these, 70 percent were in a gang for more than
three years.

Figure 2. Percent Needing Help Finding a Job (N = 447)




Most respondents had significant educational, vocational, and employment needs. Forty-five percent did
not possess a high school degree or equivalent when they
entered prison. During their prison stay, however, the
percentage of prisoners reporting the equivalent of a
high school education or higher increased from 55 to
64 percent. In addition, respondents expressed an interest in furthering their education, with three-quarters
reporting that they wanted to take classes or training
after their release.

Texas prisoners preparing for release also had significant
employment deficits. While two-thirds reported legal
employment at one or more jobs in the six months prior
to incarceration, 56 percent reported that at least some of
their income during that time came from illegal activity,
and 21 percent indicated most or all of their income was
illegal. Only half of the sample (51 percent) had ever held
a job for two years or more, and roughly the same share
(53 percent) had been fired from a job at least once
before. Once incarcerated, 61 percent of the sample
worked at some point while in prison or state jail; the
most common job types were kitchen or dietary (27 percent), sanitation or maintenance (21 percent), and clerk
positions (10 percent).



No help

Some help

Note: Data are from respondents who did not already have jobs lined up.

wanted job training after release, 84 percent wanted
some help or a lot of help in getting it (figure 3). Only
15 percent of respondents reported that they already
had a job lined up on the outside. Of those who did not
have a job lined up at the time of the interview, most
planned on using newspaper ads to find employment
(70 percent), followed by walking in and applying
(62 percent), talking to friends (58 percent), answering

Figure 3. Percent Needing Help Getting Job Training (N = 560)


Almost all respondents (93 percent) felt that finding a
job after release was important. At the same time, most
respondents who did not already have jobs lined up
(87 percent) thought they would need some help or a lot
of help in finding a job (figure 2). Of respondents who

A lot of help



No help

Some help

Note: Data are from respondents who wanted job training.

A lot of help


This report defines “reentry” as the process of leaving an
adult correctional institution and returning to society. We
have limited our scope to those sentenced to serve time in
state correctional institutions to focus on individuals who
are convicted of more serious offenses, are eligible for
state correctional programs, and may be managed by state
correctional, parole, and felony probation systems after
release. Unlike other states, Texas has two categories of
state correctional units that incarcerate felons and misdemeanants: state jails, which house individuals sentenced
to less than two years for a nonviolent Class A misde-

help wanted signs (54 percent), and talking to relatives
(54 percent).

Respondents indicated they would have few financial
resources with which to support themselves upon
release. With the exception of those who already had
jobs waiting for them, respondents expected to be
dependent on family, friends, and public assistance.
Indeed, family (54 percent) was the most frequently
reported source of expected financial support after
release, with fewer respondents expecting support from
their own jobs (40 percent), friends (24 percent), public
assistance (23 percent), or personal savings (14 percent).
Fourteen percent of respondents did not expect to
receive any financial support after release. Nonetheless,
respondents were generally optimistic about their
expected financial situations. Over two-thirds (71 percent) of respondents thought that it would be pretty easy
or very easy to support themselves financially after

Substance use was prevalent among this sample: eighty
percent reported any drug use and 54 percent reported

meanor, a third-degree felony, or a probation revocation;
and state prisons, which house individuals sentenced to
two years or more for higher-level felony offenses. Texas
criminal justice officials refer to those prisoners confined
in state jails as “confinees”; we reference them as such in
this report only when distinguishing this group from those
incarcerated in state prisons. While the two populations
may require different reentry programs and policies, the
vast majority of both prisoners and state jail confinees
return to the community following state custody, and therefore both groups must be considered when examining the
reentry experience in Texas.

alcoholic intoxication in the six months prior to their
current prison term. With regard to illegal drug use, the
most commonly cited drugs were cocaine (57 percent)
and marijuana (55 percent). In some cases, use of these
drugs was extensive, with significant shares of respondents reporting daily cocaine (26 percent) or marijuana
(20 percent) use in the six months prior to their incarceration. Heroin use, while prominent among other

Figure 4. Substance Use Treatment Participation (N = 668)

AA/NA only
treatment only

AA/NA and
drug treatment

Note: AA/NA = Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.


released prisoner populations,6 was not common among
our sample; less than 5 percent reported any heroin use
at all.

would do so even if they knew they would be arrested
for it.

The widespread drug and alcohol use reported by
respondents raises the question of how much access
respondents had to in-prison substance abuse treatment
programs. According to self-reports, 21 percent participated in a specific drug or alcohol treatment program,
37 percent attended Alcoholics Anonymous or
Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA), and 17 percent
participated in both (figure 4). Despite this evidence of
program participation, 19 percent of respondents
reported they would likely use drugs after release if they
knew they would not get caught, and 9 percent said they

Respondents had positive views of their health—79 percent rated their overall health as good (45 percent) or
excellent (34 percent). Despite these positive views, significant shares reported having been diagnosed with high
blood pressure (35 percent), asthma (24 percent), arthritis (14 percent), or diabetes (10 percent). Infectious diseases were also prevalent, with prisoners indicating they
had been previously diagnosed with Hepatitis B or C
(21 percent), tuberculosis (8 percent), HIV or AIDS
(7 percent), or another sexually transmitted disease

Texas’s incarceration and reentry trends are similar to
those observed at the national level. Between 1980 and
2001, the total number of prisoners in Texas increased
fivefold, from 28,543 to 151,003 prisoners. During this
period, the per capita rate of imprisonment in Texas rose
248 percent (from 199 to 693 prisoners per 100,000 residents), mirroring the 242 percent increase in the U.S.
imprisonment rate (from 139 to 476 prisoners per
100,000 residents). The growth in Texas’s prison population is largely attributable to rising prison admissions and
longer lengths of stay in prison. Admissions increased primarily due to an increase in arrests for violent and drug
crimes, which resulted in a rise in the number of felony
convictions. Prisoners spent more time in prison mainly
because most received longer sentences and served
longer portions of their sentences (i.e., time served).
Falling parole approval rates and legislation requiring
prisoners to serve greater percentages of their sentences
both contributed to the increase in time served.
Texas’s release patterns reflect these admissions and
population trends: 58,949 prisoners were released from
Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons and

state jails in 2002, nearly six times the number of prisoners released in 1980 (10,636). Government leaders, corrections officials, local organizations, and service providers
are keenly aware of the reentry challenges in Texas, and
they have begun to use both research and programmatic
knowledge to address them. In July 2002, the TDCJ was
awarded $2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice,
Office of Justice Programs, as part of the federal government’s Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative,
which supports reentry initiatives nationwide. This grant
provides the opportunity for Texas to continue to expand
upon current reentry initiatives in the state. For example,
a share of the funds will be used to develop reentry programs for administrative segregation prisoners, who currently have access to few or no programs, from three
counties (Bexar, Dallas, and Harris). More recently, in the
spring of 2004, TDCJ launched a planning process to
create a Texas Reentry Programs Model, with the goal of
successfully reintegrating all offenders under its supervision
back into society with a system of programs. The reentry
model programs will focus on education, employment, substance abuse, and sex offender treatment, with an emphasis on coordinating program delivery, sharing information,
and assessing prisoners’ needs across TDCJ divisions.


(9 percent). In addition, 39 percent of respondents
reported that they were currently on prescription medication for a health problem, with the majority being treated
for diseases such as asthma and high blood pressure.

a third (35 percent) had a family member currently in
prison. Moreover, two-thirds reported that someone in
their family had a history of problems with drugs or

While physical health problems were prevalent among
this population, mental health problems present an
equally daunting challenge for prisoners preparing to
return to Houston. Close to one in three respondents
(30 percent) reported having been diagnosed with
depression, and 16 percent reported having other mental
health problems. Also of note is the intersection between
substance use and health; 10 percent of respondents
reported they had experienced health problems due to
their drinking and 16 percent reported health problems
due to drug use during the six months preceding their

With regard to marital status, almost half (49 percent)
had never been married, 22 percent reported being
divorced or separated, and 21 percent were married or
had been living with a partner as married prior to prison.
The remainder described themselves as having been in
and out of the same relationship (3 percent), were widowed (2 percent), or indicated some other type of relationship (3 percent). Many of these prisoners also left
children behind: a little over half (54 percent) had children under 18 years old. Fifty-nine percent of respondents with minor children reported that they had lived
with at least some of their children prior to prison, and
77 percent reported providing financial support to their
children before prison.

Despite these significant shares of respondents
reporting physical and mental health conditions, the
vast majority (90 percent) of respondents thought
that it would be pretty easy or very easy for them to stay
in good health after release. This finding runs counter
to the almost three-quarters (73 percent) who reported
they would need help getting health care after prison.

Family was a very important source of emotional support for prisoners during incarceration. Almost all
respondents (93 percent) wanted their families to be
involved in their lives during prison. Furthermore,
79 percent reported they felt close to their families during their prison stay, and, despite the limitations of
confinement, 69 percent considered themselves to be
a source of support for their families.
While measures of family support were high, so too were
reports of family involvement with the criminal justice
system. Two-thirds of respondents had at least one family member who had been convicted of a crime, and over

Respondents had high expectations for renewing relationships with family members after their release;
79 percent believed it would be easy to do so. Eightytwo percent thought their families would be supportive
after release; most (63 percent) expected to live with
family after prison and 54 percent expected family to
be a source of financial support (figure 5). Of respondents who were parents, 80 percent thought it would
be easy to renew relationships with their children,
and among those with minors, two-thirds expected at
least some of these children would live with them after

Perhaps in light of their high expectations of family support, most respondents in our sample did not expect that
securing housing after their release would present difficulties. In the prerelease interview, 71 percent of respondents reported having housing lined up already, with
most respondents (63 percent) expecting to live with a


Figure 5. Expectations for Family Support after Release (N = 661, 666, 661)

Expect financial
support from family


Expect to live with


Expect family to be













family member. Of the 29 percent who did not yet have
housing arranged, the most common method for finding
housing was to contact a family member (36 percent),
followed by using a referral service or housing program
(30 percent), asking a friend (23 percent), contacting
a shelter (20 percent), using a government program
(18 percent), checking the newspaper (18 percent), asking a spouse or partner (13 percent), and asking their
parole officer (8 percent). Sixty-five percent of those
prisoners who did not have housing lined up thought
that it would be pretty easy or very easy to find a place to
live, but a similar share (72 percent) also indicated they
would need help doing so.
In terms of the neighborhoods where respondents expected to reside after their release, the majority (85 percent) believed that their postprison neighborhood
would be a safe place to live and that it would not be difficult to stay out of trouble there (72 percent). While
about one in five respondents (23 percent) said they
were nervous about seeing certain people in their neighborhood following release, 58 percent indicated that
they were looking forward to seeing certain people

there. Expected civic participation after release was high,
with 82 percent indicating that if they could vote after
release, they would.7
Similar to Texas prisoners’ views on family reunification,
expectations for resolving challenges upon release were
high. For example, respondents thought it would be easy
to stay out of prison after release (84 percent) and to
avoid a parole violation (81 percent of those who expected to be released on parole). Most also indicated that
it would be unlikely or very unlikely for them to commit
a crime (87 percent) or use drugs (81 percent) after
release, even if they could do so without being caught.
Despite these optimistic attitudes, at least two-thirds of
the sample agreed that they would need help in dealing
with various problems and challenges after release. Many
prisoners wanted to improve their educational and vocational abilities, as indicated by the substantial percentages who expressed a need for help getting more
education (73 percent) and job training (72 percent)
after release. Also, nearly three-quarters (73 percent)
wanted help obtaining financial assistance, transportation,
(Continued on page 10)


Table 1. Significant Differences between Male and Female

Female and male respondents in our sample differed
significantly on several dimensions (table 1). Female
respondents entered prison or state jail with a greater
number of children, on average, than men. Female
respondents reported less family support both before
and during prison and more negative family influences,
such as family involvement with drug or alcohol use or
the criminal justice system. Prior to their incarceration,
female respondents were more likely to have used illegal drugs than male respondents, and 42 percent of
women were using cocaine on a daily basis (versus
17 percent of men). In addition, more females than
males reported being threatened, harassed, or hurt by
family members prior to their incarceration.
Comparing criminal histories of male and female
respondents reveals that males became involved with
the criminal justice system at a younger age, on average,
than females. With respect to their current incarcerations, more males were serving time for parole violations
than females, and more females were serving time for
probation violations than males. In addition, more females were convicted for drug crimes, prostitution, and
fraud or forgery than their male counterparts (table 1).
During the time they spent in prison or state jail, a
larger share of male respondents earned GEDs and
participated in drug or alcohol treatment (excluding
AA/NA) than female respondents. As is referenced in
the State Jail versus State Prison Respondents sidebar (on page 9), some gender differences may be
explained by the fact that much higher shares of
female respondents were in state jails (49 percent)
than prisons (25 percent).
Although both male and female respondents
reported their health at the time of the prerelease
interview as being good overall, males and females
reported suffering from different ailments. Notably, the
shares of females reporting depression, asthma, and
STDs other then HIV were roughly double the shares of
male respondents reporting these conditions. At the
prerelease interview, females reported higher levels of
spirituality, and larger shares of female respondents
than male respondents reported praying or meditating
and reading religious literature on a daily basis.
More males than females expected to live with family after release, with more than one-third (38 percent)
of male respondents expecting to live with their mothers



Before prison
Number of children
Ever threatened, harassed, or hurt by
Ever threatened, hurt, or harassed
Worked before prison
Any illegal drug use before prison





















Criminal justice history
Age at first arrest
Served time in juvenile correctional
Currently serving time for parole
Currently serving time for probation
Parole or probation violation for a new
In-prison experiences
Earned a GED while incarcerated
Participated in drug or alcohol treatment
Ever diagnosed with depression
Ever diagnosed with asthma
Ever diagnosed with STDs, not HIV
Prayed or meditated daily
Read Bible or other religious literature
Expected post-prison earnings
Expect to live with family after release
Need help finding a job after release
Need help getting more education
Need help getting job training
Need help getting child care
Need help getting counseling
Need help getting financial assistance
Need help getting mental health care
Need help getting drug or alcohol

$8/hr $11/hr


(Continued on page 9)
Note: These differences are statistically significant at p ≤ .05.


after incarceration (versus 27 percent of females).
Male and female respondents generally had similar
expectations about how easy or hard it would be to
surmount reentry challenges, such as finding and
keeping jobs and finding a place to live. However,
larger percentages of female than male respondents
reported wanting some help or a lot of help to find a
job and to get more education, job training, counseling, financial support, mental health treatment, and
drug or alcohol treatment after release.

Table 2. Significant Differences between State Jail and State
Prison Respondents
State jail

State prison





























Before prison
Ever threatened, harassed, or
hurt by family
Ever threatened, hurt, or
harassed family
Worked before prison
Any illegal drug use before


Criminal justice history

State jail respondents differed quite a bit from state
prison respondents both with regard to their criminal justice histories and family relationships as well as their
experiences during incarceration (table 2). Most notably,
state prisoners in our sample were more likely to be
male (75 percent) than were confinees (51 percent).
Given this gender bias, determining the extent to which
gender rather than type of facility explains the differences between state prisoners and confinees is difficult
(for more on gender differences between respondents,
see the Gender and Reentry sidebar on page 8).
Many differences between state prisoner and confinee respondents are a function of the nature of the
facility, with state jails more likely to house low-level
drug offenders and less likely to offer programming.
Thus, state prisoners were more likely to have
improved their educational level, to have participated
in training programs, and to have received alcohol or
drug abuse treatment during their incarceration.
Overall, state jail confinees had lower levels of selfesteem and lower perceptions of control over their
lives8 than state prisoner respondents. They also had
lower levels of family support and rated the quality of
their relationships with family members lower than
state prisoners did.
With regard to similarities between the two groups,
state prisoners had roughly the same age, racial composition, and education levels as state jail confinees.
Both groups reported praying and reading religious literature at roughly equal frequencies and reported relatively similar levels of need for help after release.

Age at first arrest
Served time in juvenile
correctional facility
Currently serving time for parole
Currently serving time for
probation violation
In-prison experiences
Earned a GED while
Participated in drug or alcohol
Ever diagnosed with
Ever diagnosed with asthma
Ever diagnosed with STDs,
not HIV
Expected postprison earnings
Expect to live with family after
Need help getting mental health

Note: These differences are statistically significant at p ≤ .05.


or health care after release, and notable percentages
wanted help getting counseling (51 percent) and mental
health treatment (32 percent) as well.
We also asked a number of questions regarding respondents’ self-esteem, control over life, and spiritual beliefs.9
Just over half (53 percent) of the sample showed high
levels of self-esteem prior to release, and two-thirds
(62 percent) had strong feelings of control over their
lives.10 Seventy-three percent thought it would be easy
to achieve social acceptance after release. Respondents
also appeared to be very spiritual, with 80 percent
showing high levels of faith or religious practices. Many
reported praying or meditating daily (66 percent) or
reading the Bible, Koran, or other religious literature daily
(45 percent).

Forty-one percent of the study sample indicated they
would be subject to postrelease supervision,11 a somewhat smaller share than the 55 percent of all prisoners
released from Texas in 2002.12 The share of those who
expect to be released to supervision is dramatically
different for state prisoners compared with state jail
confinees, with 92 percent of state prisoners indicating
they would be on supervision versus just 5 percent of jail
confinees. Of those who knew they would be under
parole supervision, 87 percent expected their parole officer to be helpful with their transition back to the community. Moreover, 81 percent of those who expected to
be on parole thought that it would be pretty easy or very
easy to avoid a parole violation.
This research brief is the first in a series of planned publications on findings from our original data collection in
Texas. We will also be developing topic-specific research
summaries to inform policy and practice about prisoner
reentry and will produce a full technical report, including analyses of all pre- and postrelease data from prisoners and their families, postrelease criminal history data,
and findings from the interviews with community lead-

ers and focus groups with community residents. This
final report will present the conclusions from the study
and discuss policy implications. The results of the Texas
study will also be a part of a larger cross-state analysis
based on Returning Home research conducted in
Maryland, Illinois, and Ohio.


For a detailed description of prisoner reentry in Texas, please refer
to Jamie Watson, Amy L. Solomon, Nancy G. La Vigne, and
Jeremy Travis. 2004. “A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas.”
Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.


This statistic is based on a Bureau of Justice Statistics estimate that
630,000 prisoners were released from federal and state prisoners in
2002. Paige M. Harrison and Jennifer C. Karberg. 2003. “Prison
and Jail Prisoners at Midyear 2002.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.


Aside from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), which 37 percent of respondents attended.


The information in this section is based upon self-reported criminal behavior and may differ from TDCJ records. A comparison of
self-reported and official data for 624 respondents for whom official records were available suggested that respondents may have
underreported drug possession (33 versus 39 percent) and violent
crime (9 versus 11 percent) as their current conviction offense,
and overreported being a parole or probation violator (37 versus
19 percent).


For this policy brief, property crimes consist of burglary, theft
(including auto theft), and fraud or forgery.

6 Findings from the Returning Home study in Maryland indicated
that 41 percent of male and female prisoners returning to Baltimore
had used heroin on a daily basis in the six months leading up to
their most recent incarceration. Christy Visher, Vera Kachnowski,
Nancy G. La Vigne, and Jeremy Travis. 2004. “Baltimore Prisoners’
Experiences Returning Home.” Washington, DC: The Urban


Texas law bars all incarcerated persons and those on probation
and parole from voting. Effective in 1998, however, Texas removed
its two-year waiting period after completion of sentence for the
restoration of voting rights. Christopher Uggen and Jeffrey Manza.


The Returning Home study is being conducted in four
states under the direction of principal investigator Christy
Visher. Based on a number of criteria, including quality and
availability of data, and variation in sentencing and release
practices, we selected Maryland for a pilot study and
Illinois, Ohio, and Texas as the states in which the full
research study would be conducted. The project is being
carried out in close collaboration with corrections officials,
policymakers, researchers, and community leaders in each
state. Data collection has already been completed in
Maryland and Illinois and is currently under way in Ohio
and Texas.
In Texas, the study design involves three separate data
collection efforts with prisoners returning to the Houston
area: (1) a self-administered survey given to groups of prisoners in the week prior to their release; (2) a one-on-one
interview with sample members two to five months after
release; and (3) a one-on-one interview at 9 to 12 months
after release. Our goal is to capture each respondent’s life
circumstances immediately prior to and following their
release from prison, as well as about a year after their
return to the community. Thus, the surveys and interviews
explore various reentry expectations, needs, and experiences, such as those related to prerelease preparation,
postrelease housing and employment, and the renewal of
personal relationships.
Participants were recruited over a seven-month period from
the two state prisons to which all prisoners are transferred
for processing before release, and two state jails that
house a high number of confinees returning to the Houston

2002. “Impact of Recent Legal Changes in Felon Voting Rights in
Five States.” Briefing paper prepared for The National Symposium
on Felony Disenfranchisement. Washington, D.C., September
30–October 1.

“Control over life” was measured by nine items indicating whether
respondents felt in control over things that happened to them or
helpless in dealing with the problems of life.

area. In each facility, we scheduled times to explain the
study and distribute a self-administered survey to those
willing to participate. In several of the units, prisoners are
convened in groups shortly prior to their release as part of
a church-sponsored “Welcome Back” program that provides information on reentry resources. When possible, we
took advantage of having the prisoners already gathered to
present information about the study and to administer the
survey before the “Welcome Back” program was presented. This strategy resulted in a participation rate of 88
percent and a resulting sample of 676 men and women.
To assess how representative the sample is, we compared
those in the prerelease sample for whom official records
were available (N = 624) with other 2004–2005 Texas
releases in Harris County (N = 20,393), across a large
number of factors. Only two differences emerged as statistically significant (p < 0.05) in a multivariate regression.
Respondents in our sample were older (36 versus 34
years), and they were, by study design (since we intentionally oversampled female prisoners), less likely to be
male (61 versus 83 percent).
In addition to interviews with ex-prisoners, we have conducted interviews with 427 family members nominated
by our sample. These interviews, which are held two to
four months after the prisoner’s release, examine the
impact of a returning prisoner on the family structure as
well as the support that family members provide to exprisoners after release. We will also be holding focus
groups with community residents in the Houston neighborhoods that receive the highest number of returning
prisoners as well as conducting interviews with key community stakeholders.


“Control over life” was measured by nine items indicating
whether respondents felt in control over things that happened to
them or helpless in dealing with the problems of life.

An additional 3 percent of respondents were not sure whether or
not they would be supervised.


A full list of attitudinal scales, reliabilities, and the items that
comprise them is available upon request. All scales achieved internal consistency reliabilities (Cronbach’s alpha of .70 or above).

This could be explained by our sampling of prisoners returning
specifically to the Houston area, in that a greater share of Houstonbound prisoners are released from state jails compared with those
released from all over the state.


We would like to thank the many individuals and organizations that have contributed to the success of this research
project. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, especially Dimitria Pope, Janice Willett, and Rebecca Watts of
the RED group and Captain Troy Selman, Warden Dennis
Miller, Warden Detrah Lacy, and Warden Rebecca Adams
were invaluable in facilitating access to the state prison
and state jail units for interviews. We are particularly appreciative of the research and interview staff at NuStats, who

Jamie Watson, Amy L. Solomon, Nancy G. La Vigne, and
Jeremy Travis. 2004. “A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas.”
Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Nancy G. La Vigne, Christy Visher, and Jennifer Castro. 2004.
“Chicago Prisoners’ Experiences Returning Home.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Christy Visher, Vera Kachnowski, Nancy G. La Vigne, and
Jeremy Travis. 2004. “Baltimore Prisoners’ Experiences

skillfully conducted the original data collection for this
report. We also thank the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy
Center staff who assisted in the production of this report,
including Jennifer Castro, who helped prepare the data for
this report, and Jenny Osborne and Christy Visher, for their
review of earlier drafts of this document. The Returning
Home study in Texas is funded by the generous support of
the JEHT Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Houston

Returning Home.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Christy Visher, Nancy G. La Vigne, and Jill Farrell. 2003.
“Illinois Prisoners’ Reflections on Returning Home.”
Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. http://www.urban.
Jeremy Travis, Amy L. Solomon, and Michelle Waul. 2001.
“From Prison to Home: The Dimensions and Consequences of
Prisoner Reentry.” Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

To receive free monthly email updates on the research of the Justice Policy Center, join the Center’s
email distribution list by sending an email to

The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.



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