Method to the Madness: Tracking and Interviewing Respondents in a Longitudinal Study of Prisoner Reentry
After nearly four decades of growth, the number of people held in U.S. prisons has begun to decline. In an era of decarceration, social scientists need to understand prisoner reentry experiences. Longitudinal studies are one strategy to accomplish this goal. Yet, the retention of a formerly incarcerated population across waves of interviews is challenging due to their transient lifestyles and limited support systems, which may be further complicated by gang involvement. This article details the longitudinal follow-up procedures used in the LoneStar Project—a multiwave study of 802 males first interviewed in prison and reinterviewed twice in the year postrelease—to build rapport, complete interviews, and minimize attrition. We then evaluate the effectiveness of our procedures on important outcomes including interview yields, appointments, and incoming calls. Results indicate that any outgoing contact with respondents via appointment reminders and other reciprocal modes of contact lead to greater project engagement and a greater likelihood of interview completion. We conclude with relevant takeaways for researchers seeking to maximize survey participation with hard-to-reach populations.