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Non-custodial employment programs: impact on recidivism rates of ex-offenders

Additional Info

  • Authors: Christy Visher, Laura Winterfield, Mark B. Coggeshall
  • Published date: 2006-07-03
  • Coordinating group(s): Crime and Justice
  • Type of document: Review
  • Title: Non-custodial employment programs: impact on recidivism rates of ex-offenders
  • See the full review:

To assess the effects of programs designed to increase employment through job training and/or job placement among formerly incarcerated persons (i.e., those recently released), aimed at improving employment and reducing recidivism.

Search strategy

Searches of literature reviews by the first author were augmented by structured searches of nine electronic data bases, including the Campbell SPECTR database of trials to identify random assignment studies conducted after 1970. Experts in the field were consulted and relevant citations were followed up.

Selection criteria

Selecting studies based on the original objective – to examine employment services interventions for recently released prisoners – did not produce a sufficient number of studies for analysis. Thus, the selection criteria were expanded to include studies that tested the effects of job training or job placement programs or both for persons who had been arrested, convicted or incarcerated in connection with a criminal charge. Only random assignment studies of adults or studies that combined older youth (ages 16-17) and adults were included. If the treatment or comparison groups included subjects who were not ex-offenders, the results must have been reported separately for the ex-offenders.

Data collection and analysis

We report narratively on the eight eligible studies. More than 6,000 older youth (aged 16-17) and adults with prior contact with the criminal justice system participated in these studies. Two studies contributed two independent effect sizes for a total of ten effect sizes for the eight studies. We used arrests during the follow-up period (typically, 12 months) as the outcome measure. We ran three analyses: one with a mixture of dichotomized and continuous arrest 2 measures, a second with logged odds ratio effect sizes, and a third splitting the sample into those with a conviction and those without a conviction.

Main results

The analyses show that employment-focused interventions for ex-offenders in these studies did not reduce recidivism, although this group of random assignment studies is highly heterogeneous both in the type of employment program delivered and the individuals enrolled in the program. Thus, the results should not be generalized to former prisoners who are enrolled in employment programs after release. The studies are also mostly out of date and the average subject was not typical of persons released from prison in the US in the early 2000s.


Employment-focused interventions for former prisoners have not been adequately evaluated for their effectiveness using random assignment designs. After broadening the selection criteria to include individuals with criminal records, only eight studies, the majority of which are more than 10 years old, could be identified. Nonetheless, overall, the eight interventions had no significant effect on the likelihood that participants would be rearrested. Many employment-focused interventions for ex-offenders are being implemented. A new generation of rigorous evaluations is needed to provide direction to policymakers as to the most effective combination of employment-related services for specific types of ex-offenders.

See the full review

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