Supporting Families of Those Reentering from Incarceration with Cash, Wraparound Supports
Reentry from incarceration is a difficult process and little is known about “what works” for returning individuals and their families. Returning individuals face significant structural and relational barriers to stable housing and gainful employment. In a recent year, more than half of individuals returning to New York City (NYC) spent time in homeless shelters. Although family members can be a critical form of support, family reunification can be challenging. Evidence shows that most individuals returning from incarceration live or desire to live with family, however, few programs engage family and provide the assistance necessary to support complicated reunification processes. For these reasons, the Osborne Association, a nonprofit organization in NYC that supports individuals, families, and communities affected by the criminal legal system, launched an innovative effort called the Kinship Reentry Program. “Kinship” (as it is familiarly known) aims to increase housing stability, family well-being, and public safety through support of family members who welcome their formerly incarcerated loved ones. Kinship has served over 220 families as of April 2023 in a “cash plus” model: each kin head of household receives a $500 monthly direct cash transfer along with wraparound services in the form of individualized case management, financial coaching, peer-led tenant advocacy, and referrals for kin and returning persons.
What We Did
A research team from Chapin Hall and Urban Institute partnered with the Osborne Association to conduct a mixed-methods evaluability assessment, where the aim is to ascertain how ready the program is for formal evaluation. With the goal of understanding Kinship design and implementation, coconstructing a logic model, and ascertaining readiness for future rigorous study, the team met with several stakeholder groups, analyzed available program data, and cointerpreted findings with Osborne staff. Methods and findings appear in the brief (available to download below).
What We Found
Examining data from approximately 250 families (kin heads of household) who completed intake since 2020, we found that 90% were from traditionally marginalized ethnoracial groups, 89% of household heads were women, and three-quarters had income below the NYC median. Families view the monthly $500 cash transfer in an overwhelmingly positive way and are not concerned with restrictions. (The cash can be deployed as families see fit, with the exception of purchases of alcohol and wagers.) Case managers connect with families at least twice monthly (via text, phone, or in person). Participants reported that program coordinators, case managers and other staff create an open, trusting, and therapeutic environment by going “above and beyond” to meet families where they are. Some families said staff “feel like family.”
Demand for the program outgrew its current capacity (100 families) and the Osborne Association would like to expand it. Kinship is operating according to its theory of change, is highly valued by families and stakeholders, and appears program ready for more rigorous evaluation following additional investments, including refinement of measures, outputs, and outcomes; solidifying data sources; and refining the characteristics of and methods for recruiting kin.
What It Means
Kinship is among the first programs in the U.S. to provide direct cash transfers to families who are welcoming back their loved ones after incarceration. While Kinship is a well-designed program, it is still developing. Program staff are interested in participating in a more rigorous and systematic evaluation. Our early lessons from this initial assessment offer a few insights that may be useful to other organizations that are considering a similar intervention:
- In light of the significant housing shortages and numerous barriers to stable housing for reentering individuals, a direct cash transfer program for families who welcome back their loved ones may be a relatively inexpensive way of diverting shelter use.
- Family reunification after incarceration is a difficult transition period for all members involved, but supporting families can go a long way toward family well-being and to help them be successful and not feel isolated or as if they have nowhere to turn.
- There are early indicators that supporting the hosting family who is providing a safe, stable place for their loved one after incarceration can help reentering individuals avoid the experience of homelessness. In addition, family support may help returning people avoid encounters with the criminal legal system, which in turn enhances public safety.
- Kinship shows promise. At the same time, it is important to test the model, ensure that it can be adapted and implemented with fidelity, and ensure that it produces the desired results.