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Correctional industries preparing inmates for re-entry: Recidivism & post-release employment (Smith et al. 2006)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Smith, C. J., Bechtel, J., Patrick, A., Smith, R. R., & Wilson-Gentry, L. (2006). Correctional industries preparing inmates for re-entry: Recidivism & post-release employment. (Report No. 214608). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. [Comparison between PIECP and other-than-work activities]

Highlights

  • This study examines the effectiveness of a specific prison work program called Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP) on employment, earnings, and recidivism after release. The authors investigated similar research questions for another contrast, the profile of which is available here.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental study design and administrative data to compare employment, earnings, and recidivism outcomes of the PIECP group with those of a comparison group of similar people who did not participate in prison work activities.
  • The study found that PIECP was associated with more employment, greater earnings, and less recidivism compared with the outcomes of those who did not participate in prison work activities.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the PIECP; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP)

Features of the Intervention

The PIECP provides a voluntary prison work experience similar to the private sector and thus more directly relevant to the job market after release compared with traditional prison labor. For example, people are provided with a market-rate wage, benefits, and job training to make them more marketable upon release. There are three models of employment through the PIECP. The first is the employer model, through which the private sector controls the employment experience fully and the department of corrections does not play a role in the employment process. The second is the customer model, through which the department of corrections operates facilities and supervises participants, but a private company purchases the output from this work. The third is the manpower model, through which a private company oversees employment, but the participant is employed by the department of corrections. The PIECP treatment group included people in all three models of employment.

Features of the Study

The authors used a nonexperimental study design to compare employment, earnings, and recidivism outcomes of 2,333 PIECP participants with the outcomes of those in a group of 2,268 nonparticipants with similar demographic backgrounds but engaged in other-than-work (OTW) activities. The OTW participants were not involved in prison labor but might have been enrolled in education, vocational education, training, counseling, or other preparatory programs, or they might have been idle. PIECP participants were identified based on department of corrections records from five unnamed states in 46 prisons and included all inmates released from January 1996 to June 2001 in those five states who had participated in PIECP for one day or more. Each PIECP participant was matched with an OTW participant in the same state based on race, gender, approximate age, and criminal history. The authors demonstrated that this matching process created groups that were similar on the demographic characteristics, but the groups did not have similar criminal histories. The authors used state administrative data for up to seven-and-a-half years after release to compare these groups’ outcomes.

Findings

Employment

  • The study found that the PIECP group was employed continuously for a longer duration and was employed in more time periods than people who did not participate in prison work activities. This finding was a statistically significant difference.

Earnings

  • The study found that the PIECP group had higher earnings than the people who did not participate in prison work activities. This finding was a statistically significant difference.

Recidivism

  • The study found that a smaller proportion of the PIECP group was convicted or incarcerated than the comparison group of people who did not participate in prison work activities. This finding was a statistically significant difference.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Although the PIECP and comparison groups were shown to be similar on age, gender, and race, the authors did not demonstrate that the groups were similar on employment, earnings, or criminal history before the program began. Existing differences between the groups on these characteristics—and not PIECP— could explain the observed differences in outcomes.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not ensure that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the PIECP; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2020

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