November 09, 2017

NEW REPORT: Increasing the availability of high-quality jobs helps to reduce the reoffending rate among released prisoners

NEW REPORT: Increasing the availability of high-quality jobs helps to reduce the reoffending rate among released prisoners

new IZA World of Labor report finds it is the quality of available jobs for released prisoners that matters: Improvements in wages for the low-skilled and growth in industries characterized by higher wages for low-skilled workers can reduce the reoffending rate.

Employment is often mentioned as an important turning point in the lives of former criminal offenders. The fact that over two-thirds of ex-prisoners in the US are rearrested within three years of release is commonly linked with an inability to find stable work. Surveys of individuals about their post-prison labor market experiences paint a bleak picture, especially in the US. Among a sample of male prisoners released in Ohio, Illinois, and Texas in the early 2000s, only 45% were employed eight months following their release. Moreover, the typical ex-prisoner’s earnings from employment and other sources was well below the 2005 Federal Poverty Level of $795 per month for a single-person household.

A new report by the economist Kevin Schnepel of the University of Sydney summarizes a recent evidence of the causal relationship between relevant employment opportunities and a failed re-entry into society (or “recidivism”). These studies suggest that the type of job and the expected earnings from legal work affect the success of re-entry.  

One study, for example, tracks outcomes for 1.7 million prisoners released in California between 1993 and 2008 and finds that an increase in the number of job opportunities for low-skilled applicants in construction and manufacturing is associated with significant reductions in recidivism. Interestingly, the availability of food service and retail jobs at the time of release does not have a similar positive impact despite such jobs typically being accessible to individuals with criminal records. While the types of opportunities differ across a number of characteristics, one of the most striking differences is in the average wage for a low-skilled, newly hired worker: The expected monthly salary for an applicant without any college education who gains a construction job in California is above $2,000, whereas the expected salary in food services is around $1,000.    

Another study estimates a drop in recidivism associated with an increase in average low-skill wages at the time of release for more than four million offenders who exited prison between 2000 and 2013. The estimates imply a 5−10% increase in recidivism risk associated with the decline in low-skill wages following the 2007 global financial crisis. In this study, labor market opportunities are captured by the average expected wage for a low-skilled worker.

Schnepel stresses the importance of considering job quality in the design of employment-focused re-entry programs and policies: “An important question for policymakers thus arises: How can society increase the quantity and quality of legitimate work opportunities for released prisoners?” According to Schnepel, employment focused re-entry programs that typically help offenders find work through the provision of minimum wage transitional jobs need to change. “Future re-entry evaluations should focus on policies and programs that increase post-prison wages and stable work opportunities, including initiatives that encourage more employers to consider rehabilitated ex-prisoners as applicants.”

Please credit IZA World of Labor should you refer to or cite from the report.

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