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The Effectiveness of Prison Programming: A Review of the Research Literature Examining the Impact of Federal, State, and Local Inmate Programming on Post-Release Recidivism

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 84 Issue: 1 Dated: June 2022 Pages: 3-20
Date Published
June 2020
18 pages

This literature review on the impacts of Federal, State and local inmate programming on post-release recidivism discusses the First Step Act, Independent Review Committee; it provides a general overview and preliminary notes about data derived from PATTERN; lays out different types of programming in the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP); summarizes research findings; provides recommendations for next steps; and includes a list of references in addition to appendices with supporting tables.


The author of this literature review addresses three major questions: based on available research, what the effects of current Bureau of Prisons (BOP) programming are on recidivism reduction; what a broader review of prison programming research conducted in state and/or local prisons reveal about risk reduction effects of such programming; and if current BOP programs can be described as evidence based. The author reviews the following: evaluations of the effectiveness of the BOP programs; research examining the impacts of major types of programming in state prisons, the effectiveness of residential drug abuse treatment programs, the effectiveness of other prison-based substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, prison education systems, prison work/employment programs, and mentoring and social support strategies. The author concludes that serious, formal evaluations of current BOP programming are too scarce to provide insight into the effectiveness of that programming. He offers estimates of the likely recidivism reduction effects of the five types of prison programming: residential substance abuse treatment; other types of substance abuse and mental health treatment; prison education and vocational training; prison work/employment programs; and mentoring and social support in prison. The author also notes that participants in BOP programs included in the PATTERN model are volunteers, and this may indicate that those participants want to change, which may skew the outcomes compared to inmates who do not volunteer their participation. The author suggests that a challenge for the successful implementation of the First Step Act is that evidence-based programs are not yet identifiable due to lack of evaluation research on the effectiveness of current BOP programs, and lists several issues involving PATTERN’s current design that should be addressed.

Date Published: June 1, 2020