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Sometimes, a little bit of good can come from a generally bad situation. Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, leaving plenty of destruction and upset in its wake. However, the event also became a catalyst for social scientists to further their research and understanding of the nature of crime, including how criminals fare when asked to return to their former neighborhoods.

Las Vegas neighborhood

Can living in a “bad neighborhood” increase your chances of going to prison? A new study says “yes”.

This is apparent in a recent interview conducted by NPR’s Shankar Vedantam and David Kirk, a sociologist from the University of Texas. Kirk studies recidivism, or the likelihood that an individual will return to a life of crime after release from prison and ultimately end up in prison again. This is the case in most parts of the country, especially since many states require parolees to return to their counties. Kirk’s goal was to find out whether having parolees return to a new community after release from prison is beneficial.

As the scope of Katrina’s destruction became apparent as the monster hurricane faded, it became clear that many neighborhoods were left completely destroyed and battered. For prisoners, this meant that many couldn’t return to their original neighborhoods. Kirk took this opportunity to see how these prisoners fared compared to ones who were able to return home.

During the interview, Vedantam suggests that neighborhoods with high concentrations of former offenders often act as breeding grounds for criminal activity. Additionally, he notes that ex-prisoners might come back from a prison system with negative views towards the criminal justice system, law enforcement, and police, ultimately spreading these feelings among others in the community.  In the ongoing debate of whether parolees should return home, Kirk points out that aside from other ex-prisoners, these feelings and beliefs can also affect those who have not been to prison.

Despite strong evidence to support Kirk’s views, which have long been shared by many criminologists, certain factors make it difficult to suggest that ex-prisoners return to a new community after their release. In areas with high concentrations of ex-prisoners, such as Chicago, many return to a select few neighborhoods. One big reason is because it is difficult for them to get housing and to find work, so they go back home to link up with an existing network. Another problem is that some areas or states may not want to accept ex-prisoners.

Having a new community to call home after release from prison is clearly beneficial in many ways. However, the concept is not a reality yet in many parts of the country. Although the system needs more work, a good Las Vegas criminal defense attorney can help.