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The effects of prison-based educational programming on recidivism and employment (Duwe & Clark, 2014)

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Duwe, G., & Clark, V. (2014). The effects of prison-based educational programming on recidivism and employment. The Prison Journal, 94(4), 454–478. [Comparison #2: between post-secondary degree completion and no post-secondary degree completion]

Highlights

  • The study examined whether obtaining a post-secondary degree through Minnesota’s Department of Corrections (MnDOC) affected former inmates’ post-release employment, earnings, and recidivism. The authors also investigated whether obtaining a secondary degree impacted similar outcomes, the profile of which can be found here.
  • The authors used a nonexperimental design (propensity score matching) to create a comparison group of former prisoners who were similar to program graduates but who did not complete a post-secondary degree while incarcerated. The authors estimated the program’s effects using data from the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and the Correctional Operations Management System database maintained by MnDOC.
  • The authors found that completing a post-secondary degree reduced the risk of reconviction by 16 percent and re-incarceration for a new crime by 24 percent and had no statistically significant effect on revocations for technical violations.
  • The quality of causal evidence on recidivism outcomes presented in this report is moderate because it is based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to completing a post-secondary degree through MnDOC, but other factors might also have contributed.

Intervention Examined

MnDOC’s educational programs

Features of the Intervention

MnDOC offers educational programing at the secondary and post-secondary levels to inmates in all of the state’s correctional facilities. Educational programming is mandatory for inmates who do not have at least a high school diploma or a GED. MnDOC verifies high school or GED completion and administers the Test of Adult Basic Education to all incoming inmates to determine whether to direct them to secondary or post-secondary programming.

Features of the Study

The authors used a statistical approach called propensity score matching to create a comparison group of former prisoners who were similar to the graduates of MnDOC’s post-secondary educational program (the treatment group). Participants and comparison group members were drawn from among the 9,394 Minnesota inmates released from 2007 to 2008. Of these, 693 inmates obtained a post-secondary degree in prison (including 148 who completed both a secondary degree and a post-secondary degree in prison). Using propensity score matching, the authors compared inmates who completed a post-secondary degree in prison with 5,267 similar inmates who had a secondary degree but did not complete a post-secondary degree in prison. The authors used statistical models to compare program participants’ outcomes with those of the comparison group using data on employment and earnings from the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development, data on reconviction for a new crime from Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and data on re-incarceration from MnDOC’s Correctional Operations Management System.

Findings

Employment

  • The authors found no statistically significant difference in post-release employment rates between those who completed a post-secondary degree in prison and those who entered and exited prison with only a secondary degree.

Earnings

  • The authors found that inmates who completed a post-secondary degree in prison earned more in total wages after release than those who entered and exited prison with only a secondary degree.

Recidivism

  • The authors found that completing a post-secondary degree reduced the risk of reconviction by 16 percent and re-incarceration for a new crime by 24 percent. The authors found that completing a post-secondary degree had no statistically significant effect on the risk of parole revocation for a technical violation.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

Although the authors used a well-implemented nonexperimental design, they did not account for differences between groups’ employment and earnings histories before program participation. Preexisting differences between the groups—and not the program—could explain the observed differences in earnings outcomes.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence on recidivism outcomes presented in this report is moderate because it was based on a well-implemented nonexperimental design. This means we are somewhat confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ educational programs, but other factors might also have contributed.

The quality of causal evidence on employment and earnings is low because the authors did not fully account for differences in employment and earnings history before the intervention.

Reviewed by CLEAR

February 2019

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