WASHINGTON – Few Maryland inmates are prepared to re-enter society when they are released from prison, a problem that affects not only the individuals but the already disadvantaged neighborhoods where they often end up, a recent study said.
The Urban Institute report said that former prisoners contend with a battery of “collateral consequences” back on the street, where their access to food stamps and welfare support is limited and where they are excluded from public housing because of their records.
Jeremy Travis, one of the authors of the study, said the barriers to self- sufficiency leave many with few options for survival.
“The social safety net for poor people has been placed off limits” for ex- offenders, said Travis, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center.
“These restrictions increase the marginalization of returning prisoners. It makes the reintegration process that more difficult,” he added.
And the problems faced by an individual, if unsolved, will often turn into problems for the community at large, he said.
The report said that concentrated pockets of ex-offenders “generate great costs . . . including potential increases in costs associated with crime and public safety, greater public health risks and high rates of unemployment and homelessness.”
The report pointed specifically to the large number of former prisoners in a few Baltimore City communities — including Greenmount East and Southern Park Heights — saying their presence may magnify social and economic problems already present there.
State and federal officials said that of the 9,448 prisoners released from Maryland’s prisons in 2001, nearly half — 4,411 — stayed in Baltimore after they got out. About 30 percent of those former inmates moved into a handful of communities that were already plagued by drugs and crime.
In these communities, “there are large numbers of people, mostly men who have been through the prison experience, that find it harder to play the role we expect them to as a society,” Travis said. “More people are coming out with less of a chance.”
Officials with the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services were not available to comment on the report Friday.
But advocates for ex-offenders are not optimistic about the future.
Phil Holmes, spokesman for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, said the lack of funding for community-based assistance programs will only worsen a grim situation.
“Prisoner re-entry in Baltimore is going to get worse. I don’t see any stepped-up investments for helping newly released offenders,” Holmes said.
Holmes said the cuts come at a time when the number of low-wage jobs is dropping and transitional housing remains scarce.
But Holmes remains hopeful that the Urban Institute’s report and other research will increase public awareness of the problems ex-offenders face.
Travis said the Maryland research was designed as a pilot for a three- state study, and that the work will continue.
“We are very much committed to this work for the next few years,” he said.