Many citizens returning home from prison are concentrated in Baltimore’s lower-income neighborhoods. These residents often need support to navigate their successful re-entry into the community. The services that are available are either insufficient to meet the needs of this population, or are not well-known or easily accessed by the residents who need them most. The Baltimore City Accelerator team sought to repair the interfaces between citizens returning from prison and local government through a project called Here 4 Reentry (H4R). Through the City Accelerator, Baltimore:
Conducted focus groups with recently returned citizens on the types of services they need most, and the best ways to communicate their availability.
Held a Design Day in partnership with Mission: Launch -- facilitated by returning citizens – which was created to develop actionable interventions around three key themes born from the focus groups: communication of services, community reintegration/empowerment and mental health.
Launched a comprehensive campaign called We Are Here, a platform for hosting information for returning citizens and facilitating advocacy, peer support and empowerment.
Designed a website for H4R that won top prize in the Kaiser Permanente Social Innovation Challenge, and will receive additional support to enhance the tool. The team will also be included in the city’s TECHealth Initiative, which seeks to engage members of Baltimore’s technology and design community in public health challenges.
Ideas to accelerate
In the midst of Baltimore’s project, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced she will not be seeking re-election. Baltimore designed its project to be sustainable across a mayoral transition in ways other cities can emulate:
Create sustainable partnerships built on strengths. Fostering collaborations with established community-based organizations and educational institutions can help sustain a project. These entities often have long-term relationships with the community that can withstand changing political environments. The city’s Office of Criminal Justice developed positive relationships with the city’s Safe and Sound Campaign and the returning citizen community, which afforded the trust and access necessary to recruit and retain participants for the H4R project. The Center for Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) also served as a valuable partner, providing a safe and welcoming space for the project’s weekly meetings, as well as equipment for filming and printing.
Compensate focus groups to engage residents. Baltimore conducted focus groups representing returning citizens, service organizations, government agencies and residents that collected feedback and identified areas for improvement. Residents were incentivized to participate in the focus groups with payments of $25 per hour, and peer mentors received additional compensation. Paying people for their time led to greater interest in and commitment to these focus groups, and revealed the types of communications most trusted by the returning citizen population.
Why this work matters
More than 650,000 people are released from federal and state prison every year, and over two-thirds will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within three years. The National Institute of Justice has found that in the first year after release, up to 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are not employed. Local governments offer an array of services designed to connect these citizens with employment opportunities and other useful information, but existing channels are frequently insufficient to reach this population. Successfully engaging with returning citizens can improve their economic prospects, reduce recidivism rates and contribute to the vitality of the neighborhoods in which they live.
Baltimore’s focus groups with returning citizens was critical to the success of the project. These focus groups were facilitated by the returning citizens themselves who were able to emphasize the importance of communicating assistance in a way which addressed the full context of the world in which they live -- one in which institutions are not trusted, neighborhoods can be violent, transportation is limited and time is a valuable resource. These focus groups informed the Design Day held in February 2016, which was focused on developing actionable interventions and further informed the We Are Here campaign.