Helping former prisoners transition successfully

How might we help young men stay out of prison after serving time? During a seven-week research project, we found that a key reason that nearly two-thirds of them reoffend is that they lack key developmental opportunities.   

When a team of state corrections officials and consultants came to IDEO to find new ways to reduce California’s high recidivism rates, they were well aware of the basic needs for housing, food, education, and mental health services. What they didn’t know, was why this doesn’t seem to be enough.

Through methods including co-design, in-context interviews in prison facilities, and ethnographic research with men ranging from freshly released to those who’d stayed out for years, we saw several patterns that contributed to successful transitions, including:

They developed confidence and perspective by relating to successful former inmates who they saw as role models who had ‘been there, done that.’

They formed positive bonds and built new images of themselves by learning how to ‘play’ constructively, such as through hobbies.

They realized that asking for help was critical to their aspirations of being self-sufficient, instead of the sign of weakness they had grown up believing it to be.

These insights inspired us to design concepts to compliment the core needs of housing, food, education, and mental health services, providing opportunities to fill in the development gaps and idle time that contribute to California’s persisting recidivism rates.

You can learn about them here, in our contribution to the much larger effort of our client team.