The Structure, Mission, Goals and Achievements of the Urban Institute

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The number of prisoners in the last 20 years increased in the United States, mainly as a result of longer sentences. That is why a big problem now that drew public attention is a set of potential consequences that the release of a large number of convicts back into the society can bring. Such issues as the public safety, the ability of correctional officers to manage them and the way of successful integration of ex-prisoners into the society are becoming quite urgent questions that should be considered. Hence, lots of people think that it will lead to higher crime rates and an increased resistance of neighborhoods in terms of absorbing the ex-inmates. One of the organizations that are working on solving these problems is the Urban Institute. Its Justice Policy Center has launched a special project called Returning Home in 2001 in order to collect information about prisoner's reentry experiences (Urban Institute Justice Police Center, 2006). For around six years prisoners' reentry study was trying to collect as much information as possible about all the challenges it requires and, what is more, the impact of such a reintegration into the society of the ex-convicts' families and communities, providing public policy as well as different articles and reports along with this information.

Given that the Urban Institute was the first one to evaluate the numbers of inmates returning to their respective communities and to shape practical decisions for safer return, it is important to tell about its work in general. Marking a start as a non-government policy group, the institute went on to become "leading liberal think tank" (Rich, 1988) with nine policy centers, that operate in such areas as health and health policy, immigration, housing, finance, job market, labor force, philanthropy and others. It is important to emphasize that the main goal of the organization is collecting evidence-based information and providing recommendations backed up by the research, so as to improve the effectiveness of public policies. The Urban Institute itself identifies themselves as those, whose "mission is to open minds, shape decisions, and offer solutions through economic and social policy research" (Urban Institute, n. d.a). Apart from the prisoner's reentry project, there are many others Urban Institute's accomplishments. Some of them are rethinking the public housing situation (rejection of poor Chicago public housing project with mixed-income communities) and supporting working families (helping to provide access to work-support programs easier for low-income families). In addition, one should not forget the organization's appeal to accept the immigrants with greater sympathy and understanding (helping policy authorities benefit from rapid demographic changes) and evaluating health care reforms (forming the structure of federal health reform legislation). The organization's excellent record and reliability is proven by a number of affluent and respected sponsors and funders, which treat the Urban Institute as an organization to turn to in order "to help solve complex challenges and influence social changes" (Urban Institute, n. d.a).



As it was already mentioned above, one of the most significant studies conducted by the Urban Institute is called Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry (n. d.b). In fact, this is a long-term study that focuses on the pathways for prisoners' reintegration and studies the factors that contribute to both successful and unsuccessful reentry experiences. To implement this study, four states were chosen Maryland, Illinois, Texas and Ohio (Urban Institute Justice Police Center, 2006). The timeline of the research cruises the perimeter of the prisoners and their life circumstances right before, during, and one year after their release. According to the study, the most significant challenges for people who reenter the society are those that refer to the sphere of relations with the community, family, state, peers, as well as the issues concerning individuality. The study involves numerous interviews with returning prisoners regarding their lives prior and post their release. Moreover, to investigate the problem in depth, the members of the prisoners' families are also involved. The data received from the interviews is considered to be a valuable source for the study. Another important contribution to the study is made by the reentry policymakers, together with the practitioners from each of the chosen states. While talking about the Returning Home study, special note should be made about the importance of Reentry Roundtable forum, organized by the Urban Institute. This is the forum, main goal of which is bringing together distinguished academics, scholars, advocates, and even, strange though it might sound, former prisoners in order to evaluate and analyze to what extend social and household components can affect the reentry process. The importance of the roundtables lies in the fact that they assist in developing new ways of thinking about the issue of prisoners' reentry and fostering the innovations in reentry policy-making processes that, in turn, will help improve end-results for families and individuals and for neighborhoods in general. The fact that more than a half Urban's funds are provided by the federal government contracts makes such researches a reliable source of information. All in all, there is no doubt that the work on the Returning Home study is a long and painstaking one, the importance of which is impossible to overstress.

The achievements of the study are impressive. Among its accomplishments one can name success in gathering and analyzing a huge amount of information regarding the experience of the reentering prisoners. The reports devoted to highlighting this topic are structured, logically organized and clear for comprehension, which turns their aspiration of raising public awareness into quite an achievable task. One of the key findings is the outline of the topic concerning prison programs and employment. According to the interviewed employers, the lower reoffering rate is, the better employment history is, and the salary is inversely correlated with the criminal activity levels. While incarcerated, those who enter a prison with limited marketable work skills or low levels of education lose the opportunity to compensate this weakness completely, despite the prison programs available. In addition, they lose a chance of gaining professional connections and social contacts that obviously makes legal employment a pie in the sky, because the employers demonstrate reluctance in terms of employing ex-inmates that create the obstacle for a job placement. However, those prisoners who participate in job trainings prison programs are less likely to get thrown in prison again, and every second of them manages to find a job. Other accomplishments are the findings about family relations. Communication with family members during the incarceration period is believed to contribute a lot to the reintegration into the society afterwards. It is not a secret that family members are for the prisoners a source of both the financial and emotional support right after release. According to the study, the released prisoners that are married turned out to have higher probabilities in finding suitable employment and presence of children only increases the former prisoners' desire to look for a better job (Urban Institute Justice Police Center, 2006).

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What is important for comprehending the results of Returning Home study is that it highlights the problems of all kinds and sorts, the ones that human beings constantly face in their everyday lives: employment, health, family relationships, along with the relations within neighborhoods and communities, recidivism and so on. To my mind, however, there is a shortcut towards the topic of supervision importance and the role of parole officers. Despite the fact that the project discusses the extent of parole officers' importance, I believe that this subject is still waiting for the right time. However sad it might sound, parole supervision with its modern approaches has little impact on rearrests after release and sometimes even questions their likelihood, because of technical violations. To my way of thinking, this fact should convey a need of reconsidering by the parole officers the very basic approaches to the supervision. However, one should not forget that parole officer's work is not only supervision and monitoring the conditions of the release to be followed. Parole officer also helps the ex-convicts within local resource constraints, sets up educational opportunities, designs intervention programs that can facilitate the success of parolees (ex-prisoners) in society, and reduces the chance of resorting to the us of substance. The parole officers' work are capable of yielding large potential gains for both released prisoners and the society. For the first ones, it helps pave the way to the society again. As of the community, it helps to reduce the safety concerns in connection within one, with the increasing number of offenders released. That is why paying more attention to the significance of reconsideration of major approaches to supervision processes would be the improvement that, in my view, should be sought first and foremost.

The success of the Returning Home study is unquestionable. As stated above, it was the first significant attempt to evaluate and comprehend the problem of the mass incarceration. Moreover, its value lies in the fact that their executed work gathered, processed and analyzed the information in the way that does not take much time to learn and comprehend because of the very form of data submission. The Urban Institute's Returning Home initiative helped detect what the current issues are and indicated their origin. On top of that, a good beginning makes a good ending, which is why realizing where the problem comes from is already half of the job done. Implementing the modifications to the reentry policy is already a government's concern.

Doubtlessly, a massive increase in prisoner's reentry turned the attention to the extent of the consequences and effects on the society and on the ex-inmates themselves. These individuals experience lack of services or parole officers' help when they leave jail and make their first attempts to reenter the society on their own. The Urban Institute's Returning Home study stresses the importance of the measures that should be undertaken in terms of the reentry policy to avoid the safety concerns increase within the society. Apart from this, the conclusions of the study serve as the impulse for policymakers to take action.

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