Final Update: Finishing Up!

I’ve made it to what is arguably the most important part of a research project: writing it up! It’s also one of the trickier parts to get right. I definitely have enough information. Each interview yielded two to four full (single-spaced) pages of typed notes. And I ended up conducting eight.

Over these last few weeks, I’ve been combing through those notes, pulling out pieces relevant to common themes and looking for correlations between the different regions of Virginia. Is reentry in the rural southwest significantly different from reentry in the population center that is Richmond? How does it compare to reentry in the Hampton Roads region or the DC metropolitan area, which are both also well-populated? Do people working in the different regions show different attitudes toward the role of individual factors (mental health, for my purposes) and external factors (community support and acceptance) in reentry?

The answer to that last question is certainly yes, but the questions before it are not so simple. As I discussed in my last project update post, each interviewee gave me their unique perspective on the problem of reentry. Many of their opinions overlapped, but a good number disagreed, and a few even directly contradicted each other. I encountered differing opinions that don’t necessarily characterize the region they came from so much as the individual I talked to. And that’s fine! I wouldn’t expect to get a uniform opinion from all three of the organizations I interviewed in Richmond, nor the three in southwestern Virginia, and I wouldn’t expect any of them to hold wildly different opinions from the other two I interviewed, one in the Hampton Roads area and the other in the DC metro area. I wouldn’t even expect two people working in the same office to agree with each other.

The best way forward for reentry programs is controversial and under much debate. I interviewed the experts, the people who work directly with returning citizens through reentry, and they gave me a whole spectrum of information, observations, and opinions. For example, some endorse or are even directly responsible for employment initiatives like the Ban the Box campaign, which prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants with criminal records at the first stage of the hiring process, forcing the employer to consider more of them than just their record. But others oppose Ban the Box, since research has shown that its implementation encourages employers to discriminate more on the basis of other demographic characteristics, putting young, low-skilled black and hispanic men at a disadvantage, regardless of their criminal history¹. So do we overturn Ban the Box? Try something else? Or take further steps to curb all kinds of discrimination?

My goal with this paper is to put forward as clearly and cohesively as possible just what the most important parts of reentry are, to discuss the different viewpoints I’ve come across, to address regional variation, and to hopefully finish with something informative that can guide future research into the intricacies of what makes reentry work, what doesn’t, and what needs to change.

Wish me luck!

 

¹ Doleac, J. L., & Hansen, B. (2016). Does ban the box help or hurt low-skilled workers? Statistical discrimination and employment outcomes when criminal histories are hidden (No. w22469). National Bureau of Economic Research.

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