Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration


The more than 600,000 people who are released from prison each year face a range of obstacles to successful reentry into the community. Perhaps not surprisingly, outcomes are often poor: Two-thirds of those who are released from prison are rearrested and half are reincarcerated within three years. States and localities throughout the nation are searching for programmatic approaches to improve reentry outcomes, but there is limited evidence about which strategies work best.

Many believe that it is most critical to address the employment needs of individuals with previous incarceration in the period immediately following their release. The Joyce Foundation’s Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration tested the effectiveness of transitional jobs programs, a promising employment-based reentry model. The foundation selected MDRC to lead the evaluation of this important initiative. The Urban Institute and the University of Michigan also played key roles as subcontractors to MDRC. The project was also funded by the JEHT Foundation (which is no longer operating) and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

Transitional jobs programs place participants into temporary, wage-paying jobs and provide ongoing support and assistance. The temporary jobs provide formerly incarcerated individuals with much-needed income in the period just following release; they also allow program staff an opportunity to identify and try to resolve any workplace behaviors that may cause participants problems in a permanent job. After a few months in the transitional job, participants get help looking for a permanent position and then receive additional post-placement support.

The transitional jobs model has been used in many jurisdictions with both welfare recipients and returning citizens and has shown some promising outcomes. The TJRD project tested whether transitional jobs connect individuals who were formerly incarcerated to unsubsidized jobs, increase their earnings, and lower their rates of recidivism.

The Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration included programs in four Midwestern cities: Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and St. Paul.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration used a rigorous random assignment research design to measure what difference the programs made. Individuals who were previously incarcerated and agreed to participate in the study were assigned, at random, to a group that had access to the transitional jobs program or to a group that was offered basic job search assistance.

The MDRC team followed both groups for two years, using unemployment insurance earnings and criminal justice data from the participating states to measure employment and recidivism outcomes. Because the random assignment process ensured that the two groups were comparable at the start of the study, any significant differences that emerged over time could be attributed to the transitional jobs programs.