The return of prisoners to their communities has become increasingly important for research on urban poverty, family demography, public health and criminology. About 730,000 people are now released from state and federal prison each year, returning overwhelmingly to high-crime neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage. Although closely involved with the economic disadvantage, family instability, and poor health that characterizes contemporary urban poverty, the formerly-incarcerated are often inaccessible with standard data collections using surveys or administrative records. The proposed project, the Boston Reentry Survey, studies the return of prisoners to urban neighborhoods. At the most general level, this project aims to understand the connection of a highly marginal population to mainstream social institutions, in particular to family, employment, and housing. Recidivism and criminal involvement are important markers of social detachment, though we are equally interested in residential mobility and housing security, relations with family and children, earnings and job seeking, and health status and use of health services. We will conduct a small longitudinal survey with inmates interviewed immediately before release, then periodically over a 12 month period. Interview data will be linked to administrative records, as well as qualitative and proxy interviews, to supplement the information on an elusive and high-risk population. These records will provide additional evidence on employment and earnings, and health care utilization. The project will serve as a pilot for a large-scale longitudinal study of former prisoners. The study's innovative methodology is designed with the key objective of high rates of retention over the course of a year. High retention of formerly incarcerated study participants is essential to understanding the family, employment, housing, and health needs of this critical, but hard-to-reach population.

Public Health Relevance

Little is known about the employment, housing, family, and health needs of released prisoners due to their detachment from mainstream social institutions and inaccessibility with standard data collection. We propose a methodology which is innovative in its comprehensive approach to following newly-released prisoners using a longitudinal survey, interviews with family members, and linkage to prison, employment, and health records. The project will contribute to the methodology for studying a significant and hard-to-reach population, promising new data on the health and social dynamics of the formerly-incarcerated and the poor communities in which they are embedded.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Social Sciences and Population Studies Study Section (SSPS)
Program Officer
Clark, Rebecca L
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Harvard University
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
Zip Code
Western, Bruce; Braga, Anthony; Hureau, David et al. (2016) Study retention as bias reduction in a hard-to-reach population. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:5477-85
Western, Bruce; Braga, Anthony A; Davis, Jaclyn et al. (2015) Stress and Hardship after Prison. AJS 120:1512-47