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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 #1: between secondary degree completion and no secondary degree completion]

Highlights

  • The study examined whether obtaining a 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 post-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 the secondary degree program graduates but who did not complete a secondary degree while incarcerated. The authors estimated the program’s impact 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 no relationship between completing a secondary degree and recidivism.
  • 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 would have been attributable to completing a secondary degree through MnDOC if the study had found statistically significant effects.

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 all 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 inmates will be mandated to participate.

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 secondary educational program (the treatment group). Participants and comparison group members were drawn from the 9,394 Minnesota inmates released from 2007 to 2008. Of these, 3,582 entered prison without a secondary degree, and 1,212 completed a degree in prison. Using propensity score matching, the authors compared inmates with no secondary degree with similar inmates who completed a secondary degree in prison. The authors used statistical models to compare outcomes of program graduates with those of the comparison group. Outcomes included employment and earnings outcomes based on data from the Minnesota Department of Employee and Economic Development, the risk of being reconvicted for a new crime based on Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension data, and the risk of being re-incarcerated for a new crime or having parole revoked for a technical violation based on data from MnDOC’s Correctional Operations Management System.

Findings

Employment

  • The authors found that inmates who completed a secondary degree in prison were more likely to be employed after release than those who entered and exited prison without completing a secondary degree.

Earnings

  • The authors found no statistically significant difference in terms of post-release earnings between those who completed a secondary degree in prison and those who entered and exited prison without completing a secondary degree.

Recidivism

  • The authors found no statistically significant differences in recidivism between those who completed a secondary degree in prison and those who entered and exited prison without completing a secondary degree. These results held across multiple measures of recidivism including time to reconviction, time to re-incarceration for a new sentence, and time to 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 employment 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 would have been attributable to the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ educational program if the study had found statistically significant effects.

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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