More than 625,000 prisoners are released from U.S. prisons each year, and roughly 60% have some form of drug dependence. More than half of the formerly incarcerated are back in prison within just three years. A likely contributor to this vicious cycle is the fact that many released prisoners return home to the same environment with the same criminal opportunities and criminal peers that proved so detrimental to their behavior prior to incarceration.
Research shows that roughly one-third of newly released prisoners reside within ½ of a mile of their pre-prison place of residence, and that a full 60% reside within 5 miles of their pre-prison place of residence. Many ex-prisoners move back to home neighborhoods despite an expressed interest to avoid such places because of a lack of housing opportunities elsewhere. Yet, if desisting from crime largely requires separating from past situations and establishing a new set of structured daily activities, then returning to one’s old environment and routines may drastically limit an ex-prisoner’s chances of desisting from crime. Moreover, science has clearly established that individuals with drug addictions respond to environmental cues such as exposure to familiar people and places associated with prior drug use. Hence, returning to old neighborhoods likely raises a former prisoner’s risk of drug relapse.
Recent research buttresses the argument that residential change can lead to a reduction in recidivism. Prior research by program director David Kirk (2009; 2012; forthcoming) used the neighborhood destruction in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina as a natural experiment to investigate the effects of residential change on recidivism. He found substantial reductions in rates of reincarceration among formerly incarcerated individuals who moved away from their former parishes. Individuals who moved were 15 percentage points less likely to be reincarcerated. Outside of Kirk’s research, there is a host of quantitative and qualitative research that supports the hypothesis that residential relocation can produce a reduction in criminal behavior.
While there is research evidence to support the contention that residential change can lower the risk of recidivism, it remains to be seen whether these findings, particularly those from a tragic natural experiment, can translate to a real-world policy solution. This recognition motivated the development of the MOVE program. Initial planning of the program began in 2010, and a pilot of the program launched in 2015.
 Harding DJ, et al (2013) Home is hard to find: Neighborhoods, institutions, and the residential trajectories of returning prisoners. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 647, 214–236.
 Kirk DS (2009) A natural experiment on residential change and recidivism: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Am Sociol Rev 74:484–505; Kirk DS (2012) Residential change as a turning point in the life course of crime. Criminology 50:329–358. Kirk DS. Home Free: Residential Change and Redemption after Hurricane Katrina. Oxford University Press. Forthcoming.
 Osborn SG (1980) Moving home, leaving London and delinquent trends. British Journal of Criminology 20:54–61; Laub, JH, Sampson RJ (2003) Shared Beginnings, Divergent Lives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard. Sharkey P, Sampson RJ (2010) Destination effects: Residential mobility and trajectories of adolescent violence in a stratified metropolis. Criminology 48:639–682. Farrall S, et al (2014) Criminal Careers in Transition. New York: Oxford University Press.
Photo Source: “Winter Sunrise at Annapolis City Dock (Ego Alley)” flickr photo by Charlie Stinchcomb; https://flickr.com/photos/47000103@N05/6634395551 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
“Rows and Rows” flickr photo by Andre Mercier; https://flickr.com/photos/andremercier/3572564728 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license