Third-Year Evaluation of Greater Hartford Reentry Welcome Center Shows Progress, But Challenges Persist
In June, the Greater Hartford Reentry Welcome Center celebrated the opening of its new facility on Windsor Street in Hartford. Community Partners in Action coordinates the support services provided by a network of more than 30 nonprofit and government partners. Since 2018, the Center has supported individuals returning from incarceration, addressing basic needs and making referrals to a wide range of partner services.
The mission of the Center is to ensure that returning residents have access to information, resources, and referrals to vital services in a single location. In December 2017, the Hartford Foundation awarded a three-year $450,000 grant to launch the Center in Hartford City Hall and City staff support. The Center also has received support from the Connecticut Department of Correction (CT DOC), the Connecticut Judicial Branch-Court Support Services Division (CSSD) as well as funding from other government and local resources, including the faith community. Expanded services at the larger facility were made possible by additional three-year grants in 2021: more than $1 million from the Hartford Foundation, $375,000 from the U.S. Department of Justice, and a $900,000 investment from the City’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.
As part of its ongoing support, the Foundation has funded independent evaluations of the Center’s operations to inform enhancement of services and assess the progress and impact of the program. The Foundation is now releasing the third-year evaluation of the Center conducted by Diamond Research Consulting.
“The Hartford Foundation is proud to be a part of what is an example of a true public-private partnership designed to support residents returning home from incarceration making a successful transition,” said Hartford Foundation President Jay Williams. “This report speaks to the value of this collaborative effort. It also highlights the additional work that needs to be done. “
“Since our founding in 1875, a guiding belief of Community Partners in Action is that ‘People can change if given opportunity and support’,” said CPA Executive Director Beth Hines. “The Hartford Reentry Welcome Center exemplifies this belief. CPA is grateful to work alongside the City of Hartford and our community partners, who assist us with providing a myriad of services to people returning to the community. As the Center’s middle name indicates, a primary objective of the program is that everyone who enters our doors feels ‘Welcome.’ As a community, we are responsible for providing a continuum of support to people coming home so they can be successful. Successful individuals help build stronger and more resilient families and communities.”
In the first three years, the priority population for case management services was people released at the end of their sentence, without a required period of parole or probation supervision; however, anyone who sought assistance at the Center was provided some level of support. For example, staff routinely provided hygiene products and gift certificates for clothing and food to anyone in need.
People were most often referred by CT DOC, but also sought help by phone and in person. As of January 1, 2022, people who are still under community supervision will also be eligible to receive ‘strategic case management’ services, and as of last month, pre-trial individuals with housing needs will receive support from a housing navigator from Mercy Shelter Corporation who is based at the Center.
In the third year of implementation, 74 people enrolled in case management services. That is 35 percent fewer than in the prior year as the ongoing pandemic concerns force the Center to remain closed to walk-in participants. Also, fewer people were being released at the end of their sentence due to a slowdown in arrests and court proceedings through June 2021.
Most Center program participants were men over the age of 24. Forty-one percent of participants were Black, 29 percent were Latinx, and 29 percent were White. Those released at the end of their sentences made up 65 percent of the case management population; 31 percent of participants were on probation following their incarceration.
The evaluation outlined several key findings:
- COVID: Staff adapted in-person services to reflect the latest COVID-19 restrictions and provided case management services to end of sentence clients, and basic human needs supports to anyone seeking reentry assistance; however, meeting with participants within the facilities prior to their release from incarceration was not possible due to the pandemic. Participants continued to be directly transported to the GH-RWC from CT DOC on the day of release. The number of overall participants decreased as the Center continued to be closed to walk-in participants, fewer people also were being released at the end of sentence due to a slowdown in arrests and court proceedings that continued through June 2021.
- Housing: Many people sought housing assistance as shelters were not accepting new participants due to COVID restrictions. Some participants received rapid rehousing assistance through the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness statewide Rapid Rehousing Assistance Program, as well as through participant support funds included in grants. CSSD and CT DOC have agreed to commit additional funds for eight emergency shelter beds operated by Mercy Shelter and Housing Corporation to provide for the immediate needs of people returning from incarceration who would otherwise be released to homelessness.
- Essential Services: Essential aspects of reentry work include immediately addressing mental health, substance use, housing supports, and other wraparound services to meet basic needs. Providing an array of basic needs supports upon reentry is essential to successful reintegration. Participants generally had limited financial means and often relied on family, friends, and the social service sector to assist with basic survival needs.
- Employment: Many factors combined to make finding and maintaining employment difficult for the Center’s participants. In addition to discrimination against those formerly incarcerated, factors included housing instability, lack of transportation for night work, scheduling conflicts with mandated treatment and other programming, and challenges in securing full-time employment. Many returning citizens did not have the education-level required by employers, as more than a third of participants lacked a high school diploma.
- Data-Informed Decision Making: The quality of the CPA’s data needed for program evaluation and tracking referrals has significantly improved in Year Three, strengthening CPA’s ability to monitor how well the Program is meeting its goals.
The evaluation offered several recommendations to improving the work of the Reentry Welcome Center, many of which are underway:
- Engage in pre-release in-reach to address the employment concerns and more effectively recruit participants who could benefit from employment services.
- Build upon relationships with CT DOC staff and community partner organizations is essential to expanding and sustaining services.
- Continue to advance practices to foster equity and inclusion with partners.
- Develop an evaluation plan for collective impact
- Enhance advocacy which is an essential element in changing policy and generating adequate community supports for successful reintegration of returning citizens.
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding towns. Through partnerships, the Foundation seeks to strengthen communities in Greater Hartford by putting philanthropy in action to dismantle structural racism and achieve equity in social and economic mobility. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $894 million since its founding in 1925. For more information, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.