University of Pittsburgh
November 29, 2004

New Pitt Study Aimed at Reducing Recidivism at Allegheny County Jail


Sharon Blake


Cell: 412-277-6926

PITTSBURGH—When a man is released from the Allegheny County Jail, he may find his newfound freedom just as unsettling and even as terrifying as life behind bars. Research studies have shown there is an eight-in-10 chance the man has a drug or alcohol problem—and that there is a high probability that he will be rearrested and back in the county jail within three years.

Hide Yamatani, associate dean for research in Pitt's School of Social Work, has launched a new three-year study in Pitt's Center on Race and Social Problems that will track, interview, and assess 300 male inmates within 30 days after their release from jail and, subsequently, every six-to-eight months.

The project, called the Evaluation of the Allegheny County Jail Collaborative, will reveal which social services and networks the men are using, which ones are working for them, and which are not. The answers could shed some light on why Allegheny County's prisoner recidivism rate is so high and how it could be reduced. Initial funding for the project comes from a $330,000 grant from the Human Services Integration Fund, a group of foundations throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

"It is critical that we reach the men in that first 30 to 45 days," Yamatani says. "If they can survive that period, they have a slightly better chance of not returning to jail."

As the group of 300 former prisoners, 150 Black and 150 White males, is tracked and interviewed, another simultaneous study will be under way—a thorough survey of the county's social service agencies and how well they perform collaboratively to meet the men's needs. On board for the new study are Allegheny County's Department of Human Services, Health Department, and Bureau of Corrections, as well as dozens of agencies that help former inmates with issues ranging from housing to anger management.

Few other institutions have undertaken such ambitious projects as tracking former inmates and studying the agencies that help them. What makes Pitt's project unique is that researchers also will be examining differences in the ways Black and White former inmates adjust to life after prison. For example, Yamatani believes Black former inmates may tend to benefit more than Whites from social networks—family, friends, girlfriends—but that Blacks also may be returning to neighborhoods with higher poverty rates and higher rates of poverty-driven crimes such as home invasions.

Yamatani adds that women encounter their own specific problems upon release from prison, and he hopes to replicate the study at some point with female subjects.