On the Outside: Prisoner Reentry & Reintegration

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Praise for On the Outside

“In a powerful analysis, On the Outside reframes the policy conversation around prisoner reentry, from recidivism to reintegration. This book should be read by all those interested in incarceration and its connections to poverty and racial inequality in America.”—Bruce Western, Columbia University

On the Outside is an ambitious but thoughtful and accessible book based on findings from the Michigan Study of Life after Prison. The central aim of this revelatory, timely, and important book is to move the literature beyond a focus on recidivism toward a more robust understanding of community reintegration. It will be of great importance to probation and parole officers, correctional administrators, and even policy makers.”—Reuben Jonathan Miller, University of Chicago


“The vast increase in the number of its citizens America incarcerates means that a huge number of people leave prison each year. On the Outside is a crucial analysis of how the truly disadvantaged people who enter prison fare in the three years after their release. Read it if you want to understand what helps some find housing, jobs, and meaningful social ties, and what leads others to end up back in prison.”—Paula England, New York University

America’s high incarceration rates are a well-known facet of contemporary political conversations. Mentioned far less often is what happens to the nearly 700,000 former prisoners who rejoin society each year. On the Outside examines the lives of 22 people—varied in race and gender but united by their time in the criminal justice system—as they pass out of the prison gates and back into society. The book takes a clear-eyed look at the challenges faced by former prisoners as they try to find work, housing, and stable communities. Standing alongside these individual portraits is a substantial quantitative study conducted by the authors that followed every state prisoner in Michigan who was released on parole in 2003 (roughly 11,000 individuals) for the next seven years, providing a comprehensive view of their post-prison education, neighborhoods, families, employment, and contact with the parole system. On the Outside delivers a powerful combination of hard data and personal narrative that shows why our country continues to struggle with the social and economic reintegration of the formerly incarcerated.

Podcast on Families and Reintegration

Harding speaks with Sara Grossman of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society on the role of families in prisoner reintegration.

A Profound Mismatch

The challenges of reintegration stem from a profound mismatch between the resources with which individuals leave prison and the contexts and institutions they must confront and navigate after their release.

Searching for Work After Release

One of the most challenging aspects of returning home from prison is finding a job -- and keeping it.

The Reentry Moment

Returning citizens leave prison with a renewed sense of optimism, armed with carefully crafted plans, a new sense of themselves and new identities. Improving the reintegration of the formerly incarcerated requires capitalizing on the reentry moment.

Families and Reintegration

Families are critical to the reintegration of the formerly incarcerated. More than anyone else, they are doing the work of reintegrating their loved ones back into society.

Home is Hard to Find

Most returning citizens are rebuilding their lives in new places and new homes. Social and material support from family and romantic partners are critical to housing stability, and finding a place to call home.

What Can Be Done?

We need to re-imagine how we think about public spending on safety. We are not going to have the resources to improve the reintegration of the formerly imprisoned, and to reduce their chances of committing new crimes, unless we downsize our prison system.

Studying Reintegration

We wanted to understand not just whether or not they returned to crime or to prison, but how they reintegrated back into families, neighborhoods, the labor market, religious institutions, and civic and political life.