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Minnesota’s Affordable Homes Program: Evaluating the effects of a prison work program on recidivism, employment and cost avoidance (Northcutt Bohmert & Duwe 2012)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Northcutt Bohmert, M., & Duwe, G. (2012). Minnesota’s Affordable Homes Program: Evaluating the effects of a prison work program on recidivism, employment and cost avoidance. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 23(3), 327-351. [Study 1, Contrast 2: Affordable Homes Program completers versus matched nonparticipants]

Highlights

  • The authors examine the impact of completing Minnesota’s Affordable Homes Program (AHP) on post-release employment, earnings, and recidivism outcomes for people who were previously incarcerated. The authors also investigated whether participation in the program impacted similar outcomes, the profile of which is available here.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental design (propensity score matching) to create a comparison group of nonparticipants who were similar to program completers. The authors used data from the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections to compare these groups’ post-release employment, earnings, and recidivism.
  • Completion of AHP was associated with lower recidivism, higher employment, and higher earnings; these results were statistically significant.
  • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report for program completers compared with nonparticipants is low because the authors did not fully account for possible existing differences between the study groups. This means we are not confident that estimated effects between program completers and nonparticipants are attributable to AHP; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Minnesota’s Affordable Homes Program (AHP)

Features of the Intervention

Minnesota’s AHP was intended to increase the number of affordable homes in the state and increase the likelihood of people obtaining employment in construction-related fields after release from incarceration. The eligibility criteria for AHP include current incarceration in a minimum security facility; having no discipline violations in the past six months of incarceration; and being physically capable of work. AHP participants received hands-on construction training and were placed in a work crew with a maximum of nine other people. The crews were housed in local minimum security correctional facilities—mostly county jails—throughout the state of Minnesota and worked four 10-hour days each week to build or remodel affordable housing units. Participants were paid $1.00 to $1.50 an hour for their work.

Features of the Study

The authors used a nonexperimental design (propensity score matching) to create a comparison group of 224 previously incarcerated people in Minnesota who had not participated in the program but were otherwise similar to the 146 program completers. Participants (including but not restricted to completers) were 73 percent White with an average age of 35. All study participants in both groups were released to the community from 1998 to 2008. The authors compared post-release employment and earnings of the two groups using data from the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development. The authors used data from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ Correctional Operations Management System to compare rearrests, reconvictions, and re-incarcerations.

Findings

Employment

  • Completing the AHP program had a statistically significant association with employment: the probability of obtaining any employment post-release was higher among program completers than among nonparticipants by 14.7 percentage points, or about a quarter of the comparison group rate.

Earnings

  • Completing the AHP program had a statistically significant association with total post-release wage income: total post-release wage income was higher among program completers than among nonparticipants by $3,351, or about 45 percent the comparison group average.

Recidivism

  • Relative to not participating in the AHP, completing the AHP program was associated with statistically significant reductions in recidivism, as measured by felony reconviction rates (a reduction of 10.9 percentage points, or about a quarter of the comparison group reconviction rate) and re-incarceration rates for new crimes (also a reduction of 10.9 percentage points, or about a third of the comparison group re-incarceration rate).

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors did not account for factors other than the program that could have affected the differences in outcomes between the AHP participants and the comparison group. Differences in these factors—and not completion of AHP—could explain the observed differences in outcomes for program completers and nonparticipants.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not fully account for possible existing differences between the program completers and nonparticipants. This means we are not confident that any estimated effects are attributable to AHP; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2020

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