Cognitive-behavioral approaches have proven effective in promoting change in such areas as criminal behavior and substance abuse in hundreds of studies over the past 25 years. Cognitively focused approaches take aim at thoughts and beliefs that undermine mental health and turn the focus toward solutions. Behavioral skill-building, in contrast, concentrates on changing unhelpful habitual responses and reinforcing positive behaviors. Combining the two is especially effective, given the human cycle of thoughts that lead to emotions, which lead to behaviors, which reinforce those thoughts and emotions. New thinking in the criminal justice field suggests that an intervention that combines cognitive-behavioral skill-building and employment services could be stronger when combined, leading to lower levels of recidivism.
The Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Employment (CBI-Emp, previously known as CBE) intervention was designed to build on evidence from MDRC’s earlier studies of employment programs for the formerly incarcerated and from emerging evidence from the broader criminal justice field. The CBI-Emp intervention was designed to integrate theories from the economics of crime prevention with those of psychological/behavioral interventions. CBI-Emp is an integrated approach that includes both training for the staff who work with participants and cognitive-behavioral treatment workshops for participants.
MDRC partnered with the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute (UCCI) to develop the CBI-Emp curriculum. In 2015, The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) implemented the first pilot test of the curriculum, which aimed to evaluate the operational feasibility of the new treatment program for men who have been recently released from prison. CBI-Emp was evaluated as part of the Building Bridges and Bonds (B3) project.
Additional Project Details
Agenda, Scope, and Goals
The CBI-Emp intervention involves the training of program staff in cognitive behavioral techniques to reinforce the skills participants are learning in the workshops throughout their time in the program, such as core correctional practices. The intervention also includes a specific curriculum that combines job readiness and cognitive-behavioral skills, such as emotional regulation, problem solving, and job success planning, in a series of workshops for participants. Activities like role playing and collaborative problem-solving provide an opportunity for participants to practice the skills they are learning and for program staff to reinforce skill development. The intervention teaches participants how to identify and manage high-risk situations related to obtaining and maintaining employment. Heavy emphasis is placed on skill-building activities to assist with cognitive, social, emotional, and coping skill development for the work environment.
Design, Sites, and Data Sources
CBI-Emp was developed by the University of Cincinnati Corrections Institute using funding provided by MDRC. In 2015, The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) implemented the first pilot test of the curriculum, which aimed to evaluate the operational feasibility of the new treatment program for men who have been recently released from prison.
The original evaluation of CBI-Emp used a quasi-experimental design. The project included approximately 80 participants who were at moderate or high risk of recidivism and further involvement in the system. Approximately 50 participants were assigned to the program group to participate in CBI-Emp workshops and work with staff that have been trained in CBT techniques. Approximately 30 participants were assigned to the “business as usual” group to receive regular CEO services; they did not have access to the workshops or staff that have trained in CBT services. The feasibility study focused on short-term outcomes, such as program experiences, participation, and engagement between the two groups.
MDRC is currently conducting a random assignment evaluation of CBI-Emp in three sites as part of the Building Bridges and Bonds project.