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Practice Profile

Corrections-Based Vocational Training Programs

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Employment & Socioeconomic Status - Job placement

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Vocational training or career technical education programs in prison are designed to teach inmates about general employment skills or skills needed for specific jobs and industries. The overall goal of vocational training is to reduce inmates’ risk of recidivating by teaching them marketable skills they can use to find and retain employment following release from prison. Vocational and technical training programs can also reduce institutional problem behaviors by replacing inmates’ idle time with constructive work (Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie 2000). In addition, some vocational training programs can assist in the operation of prisons by having inmates assist in institutional maintenance tasks.

The 2005 Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities found that 85 percent of all reporting facilities offered formal educational programs to inmates (Stephan 2008). At least half of the facilities (52 percent) offered vocational training. Although most facilities responding to the census reported providing vocational training, participation in the programs is not always high and may be decreasing. For inmates in state correctional facilities, participation in vocational training went from 31.2 percent in 1991 down to 27.0 percent by 2004 (Harlow 2003; Crayton and Neusteter 2008). Participation may be waning because of lack of awareness or interest in such programs or reduced funding.

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 skills can hinder efforts to find a job and make a decent wage. Providing educational programming and vocational training to adults while they are in prison can help them overcome these challenges by fostering the skills needed to find employment (Davis et al. 2014).

Target Population/Eligibility
The eligibility criteria to participate in vocational training will differ by institution. Correctional facilities may consider the inmate’s age, the current offense, time to release, scores on standardized tests, and any in-prison infractions, among many other factors. Some institutions require inmates to complete a certain level of education (usually a high school diploma or General Educational Development [GED]) before participating. This is to ensure that inmates have the basic skills and abilities needed to complete training (Lawrence et al. 2002).

Practice Components
Vocational education can be offered in various trade industries, including barbering, building maintenance, carpentry, electrical trades, painting, plumbing, food service/culinary arts, horticulture, custodial maintenance, upholstery, auto detailing, masonry, welding, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. The type of vocational training available in a prison will depend on inmates’ interests, availability of teaching staff, and funding.

Inmates may be connected with prospective employers through vocational training or apprenticeship programs. In addition, some vocational education programs include opportunities to work hours toward industry-recognized credentials and certificates. In a recent survey of state correctional education directors, Davis and colleagues (2014) found the most commonly reported trade certifications were in construction, occupational safety, plumbing or electrical apprenticeships, automotive service, and welding certification. More than half of the respondents also reported that they offered Microsoft Office certification, illustrating the perceived importance of teaching inmates about general computing skills. College credit may also be earned for some vocational training programs at the postsecondary level.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Overall, three meta-analyses found that there were significant reductions in recidivism (including reoffending, rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration, and technical parole violations) for inmates who participated in vocational training programs, compared with inmates who did not participate. Looking at 17 studies, Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) found that inmates who participated in prison-based vocational training programs were significantly less likely to recidivate compared with inmates who had not participated (odds ratio=1.55). This means that, for example, if the comparison group had a recidivism rate of 50 percent, the recidivism rate of training program participants would be 39 percent. Aggregating results from only three studies, Aos and colleagues (2006) found a small, but significant effect (d= –0.189). This indicates that, on average, vocational training programs achieved a statistically significant 12.6 percent reduction in the recidivism rates of participants compared with inmates who did not participate. But the authors cautioned that additional tests of this tentative finding were necessary. Finally, across 34 studies, Davis and colleagues (2013) found a significant odds ratio of 0.64, meaning that participating in vocational training programs while incarcerated reduced adults’ odds of recidivism by 36 percent relative to adults not participating in such programs.
Promising - More than one Meta-Analysis Employment & Socioeconomic Status - Job placement
Both meta-analyses that examined employment-related outcomes found vocational training made a positive and significant impact on program participants’ odds of obtaining employment following release from prison. When looking at the results from eight studies, Wilson, Gallagher, and MacKenzie (2000) found a significant odds ratio of 2.02, indicating a roughly twofold increase in the odds that inmates participating in technical training programs would be employed following release from prison relative to nonparticipants. Looking at nine studies, Davis and colleagues (2013) also found that vocational education programs had a significant and positive effect (odds ratio=1.28) on the odds of obtaining employment. This means inmates who participated in vocational training programs had odds of obtaining employment following release from prison that were 28 percent higher than inmates who had not participated in training.
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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 - 1997170
Meta-Analysis 21990 - 200530
Meta-Analysis 31980 - 2011340

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 (i.e., a comparison group that did not receive an educational, vocational, or work program), 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 from 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 less 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.

Most of the studies (17 out of 33) examined the relative effects of vocation training. The outcome data for adult basic education and GED programs are often combined in reports. Therefore, the authors combined the few studies that examined the effects of adult basic education and GED programs separately with those studies reporting only a combined effect (11 out of 33).

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). Employment status was also an outcome of interest in the analysis; however, only 16 studies provided data on the results of employment once offenders were released to the community.



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 (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 three studies of in-prison vocation education. The three studies included 1,950 adult participants in the treatment groups (no information was given on the number of control group participants). One study was published in a journal. The other two studies were government reports. 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.

Meta-Analysis 3
Davis and colleagues (2013) conducted a meta-analysis of evaluations examining the effectiveness of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. A comprehensive literature search was done that covered the period from Jan. 1, 1980, through Dec. 31, 2011. To be included in the review, a study needed to 1) evaluate an eligible intervention, 2) measure success of the program using an eligible outcome measure, and 3) employ an eligible research design. Eligible interventions were defined as educational programs administered in jails or prisons in the United States and published (or released) during the period covered by the review. In this review, adult basic education was defined as basic skills in arithmetic, reading, writing, and, if needed, English as a second language. Adult secondary education was defined as instruction to complete high school or prepare for certificate of high school equivalency, such as the GED. Eligible outcomes were defined as measures of recidivism (including reoffending, rearrest, reconviction, reincarceration, technical parole violation, and successful completion of parole), employment (including having ever worked part time or full time since release, having been employed for a specified number of weeks since release, and employment status), and achievement test scores. Eligible research designs were those in which there is a treatment group composed of inmates who participated in and/or completed the correctional education program under consideration and a comparison group composed of inmates who did not.

The search resulted in the inclusion of 58 eligible studies. Of the 58 studies, 34 looked at the effectiveness of adult basic education on recidivism rates and 9 looked at the impact on obtaining employment. No information was provided on the age, gender, or racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples. The programs were located at correctional facilities throughout the United States.

The meta-analysis used a random-effects approach. The form of effect size selected was the odds ratio. The quality of each study was rated using the University of Maryland’s five-point scale; only studies that received a rating of 2 or higher on the scale were included in the analysis (a rating of 2 means a study used a quasi-experimental design but there were substantial baseline differences between the treatment and comparison groups that may not be controlled well for). The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) rating scheme was also used, because the WWC instrument scores education studies; however, the Maryland Scale was primarily used to determine the rigor of studies.
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Cost

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Davis and colleagues (2013) conducted a straightforward cost analysis using estimates of the costs of correctional education and of reincarceration. They estimated the average annual cost of correctional education programs per inmate participant was between $1,400 and $1,744. The authors used a hypothetical sample of 100 inmates and assumed that correctional education would reduce reincarceration rates by 12.9 percentage points (based on the results from the meta-analysis). It was estimated that 3-year incarceration costs for those who did not receive correctional education would be between $2.94 million and $3.25 million. In comparison, the 3-year incarceration costs for those who did receive correctional education would be between $2.07 million and $2.28 million. This would mean the reincarceration costs are between $870,000 and $970,000 (almost $1 million) less for those who receive correctional education.
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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 L. 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.
http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/ReportFile/924

Meta-Analysis 3
Davis, Lois M., Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, and Jeremy N.V. Miles. 2013. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance.
https://www.bja.gov/Publications/RAND_Correctional-Education-Meta-Analysis.pdf
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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 CrimeSolutions.gov criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome rating.)
http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/rptfiles/costbenefit.pdf

Crayton, Anna, and Suzanne Rebecca Neusteter. 2008. “The Current State of Correctional Education.” Paper prepared for the Reentry Roundtable on Education. New York, N.Y.: John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Prisoner Reentry Institute.

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.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance.
http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR564.html

Harlow, Caroline Wolf. 2003. Education and Correctional Populations. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf

Lawrence, Sarah, Daniel P. Mears, Glenn Dubin, and Jeremy Travis. 2002. The Practice and Promise of Prison Programming. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute.
http://www.urban.org/uploadedpdf/410493_PrisonProgramming.pdf

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.
http://bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/csfcf05.pdf
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

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.

Wichita (Kansas) Work Release Program Promising - One study
This is a reentry program designed to facilitate selected individuals’ transition from incarceration to community living by providing work opportunities outside of correctional facilities and less structured housing alternatives. The program is rated Promising. Program completers had significantly lower recidivism rates, compared with comparison group members who did not participate in the program, at the 3-year follow-up period.

North Carolina Vocational Delivery System No Effects - One study
This program was designed to assist justice-involved young adults (ages 18 to 22) in obtaining postrelease employment. It involved an integrated system of vocational training and reentry services to reduce the rate of rearrest after release. This program is rated No Effects. Results suggest there were no statistically significant differences in measures of recidivism and employment between young adults who participated in the program, compared with those who did not participate.
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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

Researcher:
Lois M. Davis
Senior Policy Researcher
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Phone: 310.393.0411 ext: 7330
Email

Researcher:
Robert Bozick
Social Scientist
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Email

Researcher:
Jennifer Steele
RAND Corporation
1776 Main Street
Santa Monica CA 90407-2138
Email