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Practice Profile

Correctional Work Industries

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Correctional work industries are designed to provide work experiences for inmates while they are incarcerated. There are multiple objectives of prison-based work industries, including 1) providing inmates with opportunities to work, 2) reducing institutional problem behaviors by decreasing the amount of idle time for inmates, and 3) assisting in the operation of prisons by using inmates in institutional maintenance tasks. Correctional work industries can affect recidivism rates because they provide inmates with the opportunity to develop marketable job skills, which can help lead them to employment after their release from prison.

The 2005 Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities found that 88 percent of facilities offered inmate work programs. The work programs included facility support services, such as office administration, food service, and building maintenance (74 percent); public works, including road and park maintenance (44 percent); prison industries (31 percent); and work release assignments (28 percent). Slightly more than half (54 percent) of all inmates held at facilities that offered work programs had work assignments at the end of 2005 (Stephan 2008).

Some correctional work industry programs are regulated under the federal Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP). Under the PIECP, local or state prison industry programs can be exempt from federal restrictions on the sale of prisoner-made goods in interstate commerce, provided they meet all the necessary requirements and are certified by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). The PIECP ensures that inmates are placed in realistic work environments, are paid prevailing wages, and are able to develop marketable skills to increase their chances of finding employment upon their release. Profits earned from prisoner-made goods have helped offset the costs of incarceration, compensate crime victims, and support families of those incarcerated (BJA 2002).

Target Population/Eligibility
With regard to the PIECP, participation in work programs must be voluntary. But beyond voluntary participation, eligibility criteria that must be met to participate in a work program may vary by state or by correctional institution. Eligibility criteria that may be required include 1) a minimum amount of time without any disciplinary reports, 2) minimum and medium security levels, 3) enrollment or completion in a high school or GED program, 4) a minimum amount of time remaining on a prison sentence (e.g., 6 months), and 5) no major medical problems prohibiting work (Smith et al. 2006).

In addition, eligibility criteria may vary by industry. For example, some industries may require the submission of an application and an in-person interview. Some industries may require prior work experience or may want to ensure that inmates will be a good fit for the particular work that must be performed.

Practice Theory
There are several obstacles that incarcerated adults must face upon their release from prison, including the prospect of unemployment. A lower level of educational attainment, an absence of a steady history of employment, and a lack of vocational or job skills can hinder one’s efforts to find a job and make a decent wage. Providing work opportunities to adults while they are in prison can help them overcome some of these challenges by fostering the skills they need to find employment (Davis et al. 2014).

Practice Components
There are several different models of PIECP programs. Programs that use the employer model often (but not always) have private sector firms located inside the correctional institution that manage the PIECP inmate population and produce goods for sale in open markets. In the customer model, the departments of correction manage the PIECP production facilities and deliver the produced goods to private firms for sale in open markets. With the manpower model, inmates are supervised by the private companies but are considered to be employed by the department of correction (Smith et al. 2006, 24).

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
The results from two meta-analyses looking at the effects of correctional work industry programs on recidivism were mixed, but the preponderance of evidence suggests a positive impact. Aggregating the results from four studies, Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) found that those inmates who participated in correctional work industry programs were less likely to recidivate than those who did not participate (odds ratio=1.48). However, this effect was not statistically significant. Conversely, Aos, Miller, and Drake (2006)—also examining four studies—found that those who participated in correctional work industry programs were significantly less likely to recidivate than those who did not participate (ES= –0.119). This means that, on average, correctional work industries achieved a statistically significant 7.8 percent reduction in the recidivism rates of program participants compared with inmates who did not participate.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11976 - 199740
Meta-Analysis 21988 - 200547178

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) examined the effectiveness of corrections-based education, vocation, and work programs for adult offenders through a meta-analysis of 33 experimental and quasi-experimental evaluations. Studies were included in the meta-analysis if they 1) evaluated an education, vocational, or work program for convicted adults or persons identified by the criminal justice system, 2) provided a postprogram measure of recidivism (including arrest, conviction, self-report, technical violation, or incarceration), 3) included a nonprogram comparison group (a comparison group that did not receive an educational, vocational, or work program), and 4) were published after 1975 in English.

A thorough search of the literature led to the inclusion of 33 eligible studies. The program comparison–contrast was the unit of analysis, allowing for multiple program comparison–contrasts per study. The 33 studies reported 53 program comparison–contrasts that were identified and coded for the analysis. More than 40 percent of the studies (14 out of 33) were journal articles or book chapters. The other studies were either government documents (10 out of 33) or unpublished manuscripts (9 out of 33). The studies generally had large sample sizes. The median number of participants across the program groups was 129, and the median number across the comparison groups was 320 (a total number of participants was not provided). Slightly fewer than half of the studies included only male participants. Female participants were included in 19 studies; however, they generally represented fewer than 21 percent of the study sample, therefore it is difficult to generalize findings from the analysis to women. In the remainder of the studies, it was unclear whether study participants included both men and women. Information on the age and racial/ethnic breakdown of the study samples was not provided.

There were only 4 studies (out of 33) that examined the relative effects of correctional industries/work programs. The form of effect size selected was the odds ratio. Recidivism was the primary outcome of interest. This was measured as a dichotomy (i.e., the percentage or proportion of program and comparison participants who recidivated).

Meta-Analysis 2
The 2006 meta-analysis by Aos, Miller, and Drake updated and extended an earlier 2001 review by Aos and colleagues. The overall goal of the review was to provide policymakers in Washington State with a comprehensive assessment of adult corrections programs and policies that have the ability to affect crime rates. This meta-analysis concentrated exclusively on adult corrections programs.

A comprehensive search procedure was used to identify eligible studies. Studies were eligible to be included if they 1) were published in English between 1970 and 2005, 2) were published in any format (i.e., peer-reviewed journals, government reports, or other unpublished results), 3) had a randomly assigned or well-matched comparison group, 4) had intent-to-treat groups that included both complete and program dropouts, or sufficient information was available that the combined effects could be tallied, 5) provided sufficient information to code effect sizes, and 6) had at least a 6-month follow-up period and included a measure of criminal recidivism as an outcome.

The search resulted in the inclusion of four studies of correctional industries programs in prison. The four studies included more than 7,000 adult participants. One study was published in a journal. The other studies were government reports or unpublished evaluations. No information was provided on the age, gender, or racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples, nor on the location of the programs.

The mean difference effect size was calculated for each program. Adjustments were made to the effect sizes for small sample sizes, evaluations of “non–real world” programs, and for the quality of the research design. The quality of each study was rated using the University of Maryland’s five-point scale; only studies that received a rating of 3 or higher on the scale were included in the analysis (a rating of 3 means a study used a quasi-experimental design with somewhat dissimilar treatment and comparison groups but there were reasonable controls for differences). Once effect sizes were calculated for each program effect, the individual measures were added together to produce a weighted average effect size for a program or practice area. The inverse variance weight was calculated for each program effect, and those weights were used to compute the average. The fixed-effects model was used for the analysis.
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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Implementation Information

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More information about the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program can be found on the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Web site:
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson, David B., Catherine A. Gallagher, and Doris Layton MacKenzie. 2000. “A Meta-Analysis of Corrections-Based Education, Vocation, and Work Programs for Adult Offenders.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 37(4):347–68.

Meta-Analysis 2
Aos, Steve, Marna Miller, and Elizabeth K. Drake. 2006. Evidence-Based Adult Corrections Programs: What Works and What Does Not. Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Aos, Steve, Polly Phipps, Robert Barnoksi, and Roxanne Lieb. 2001. The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime, Version 4.0. Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (This meta-analysis was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome rating.)

(BJA) Bureau of Justice Assistance. 2002. Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance.

Davis, Lois M., Jennifer L. Steele, Robert Bozick, Malcolm V. Williams, Susan Turner, Jeremy N.V. Miles, Jessica Saunders, and Paul S. Steinberg. 2014. How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go From Here? Washington, D.C.: RAND Corporation.

Moses, Marilyn C., and Cindy J. Smith. 2007. “Factories Behind Fences: Do Prison ‘Real Work’ Programs Work?” NIJ Journal 257.

Smith, Cindy J., Jennifer H. Bechtel, Angie Patrick, Richard R. Smith, and Laura Wilson–Gentry. 2006. Correctional Industries Preparing Inmates for Reentry: Recidivism and Postrelease Employment. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Stephan, James J. 2008. Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2005. National Prisoner Statistics Program. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
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Related Programs

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Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Minnesota’s Affordable Homes Program No Effects - One study
A prison work crew program designed to increase the availability of affordable low-income housing while training inmates in construction-industry-specific occupational skills. The program is rated No Effects. The program had some significant effect on program participants’ likelihood of gaining employment in the construction field following release from prison. However, there were no significant effects on gaining employment in other fields, rearrests, reconvictions, and reincarceration.

EMPLOY (Minnesota) Promising - One study
This is a prisoner-reentry employment program designed to reduce recidivism by helping participants find and retain employment after release from prison. It provides participants with employment assistance during the last several months of confinement through the first year following their release from prison. The program is rated Promising. Results suggested that participants in the program reported significantly lower rates of recidivism and higher rates of employment post-release.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Prisoners

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Aftercare/Reentry, Vocational/Job Training

Unit of Analysis: Persons