This article reports the findings and methodology of an evaluation of a reentry program that combined enhanced employment opportunities with wrap-around services before and after release.
Although the economic model of crime suggests that improving post-prison labor market prospects should reduce recidivism, evaluations of previous employment-oriented reentry programs have mixed results, possibly due to the multi-faceted challenges facing prisoners at the time of their release. This report presents what the authors believe is the first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of a re-entry program that combines post-release subsidized work with "reach-in" social services provided prior to release. The sample was 236 high-risk offenders in Milwaukee with a history of violence or gang involvement. The study found increased employment rates and earnings during the period when ex-offenders were eligible for subsidized jobs, and these gains persisted throughout the year. The intervention had significant effects (p < 0.01) in reducing the likelihood of rearrest. The likelihood that the treatment group was re-imprisoned during the first year after release was lower than for controls (22 vs. 26 percent), but the difference was not statistically significantly different from zero. The findings suggest that "reach-in" services to help improve human capital of inmates prior to release, together with wrap-around services following release, boosts employment and earnings, although whether there is sufficient impact on recidivism for the intervention to pass a benefit-cost test is more uncertain. Average earnings for both treatment and control groups were low; lawful work did not seem that important in the economic lives of released prisoners. (publisher abstract modified)