The Reintegration of Ex-Offenders (RExO) project began in 2005 as a joint initiative of the Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and several other federal agencies. RExO aimed to capitalize on the strengths of faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) and their ability to serve prisoners seeking to reenter their communities following the completion of their sentences. In June 2009, ETA contracted with Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) and its subcontractors MDRC and NORC at the University of Chicago to conduct an impact evaluation of 24 RExO grantees.
The programs funded under RExO primarily provided three main types of services: mentoring, which most often took the form of group mentoring, but also included one-on-one mentoring and other activities; employment services, including work readiness training, job training, job placement, job clubs, transitional employment, and post-placement follow-up; and case management and supportive services.
This report summarizes the impacts of the RExO program on offender outcomes in four areas: service receipt, labor market success, recidivism, and other outcomes. Using a random assignment (RA) design, the evaluation created two essentially equivalent groups: a program group that was eligible to enroll in RExO and a control group that was prevented from enrolling in RExO but could enroll in other services.
Key findings can be summarized as follows:
- RExO significantly increased the number and types of services received. Program group members reported having received, on average, a wider array of services than control group members. Program group members were more likely to participate in job clubs or job readiness classes and to receive vocational training, job search assistance, referrals to job openings, and help with resume development and filling out job applications. Program group members were also more likely to report participating in mentoring sessions and to declare that there was someone from a program who went out of their way to help them and to whom they could turn for advice on personal or family issues. Despite these differences, it is important to note that the program primarily provided work readiness training and support services; fewer than one in five RExO participants (and one in seven control group members) received any form of vocational or other forms of training designed to enhance their skills in in-demand industries.
- The economic downturn placed additional pressures on ex-offenders. Unemployment rates in grantee communities were high. Data gathered as part of the evaluation’s implementation study indicated that employers that previously hired ex-offenders subsequently had an abundant and overqualified pool of candidates vying for fewer jobs and were less willing to hire individuals with criminal backgrounds, potentially affecting study participants’ ability to find and retain employment. In addition, cuts to state and local budgets as a result of the economic downturn reduced other services that could help ex-offenders smoothly re-enter society.
- RExO significantly increased self-reported employment, within both the first and second years after RA. These increases were small (between 2.6 and 3.5 percentage points), but statistically significant. In addition, RExO significantly reduced the length of time between RA and self-reported first employment. At any given point following random assignment, program group members who had not yet found work were about 11 percent more likely to do so in the next time period than were control group members who had also not yet found work. However, there were no differences between the study groups in the total number of days employed in the two-year period following RA.
- RExO had no effect on reported hourly wages, but did increase total reported income from all sources. There were no differences between the study groups in their reported hourly wages at either the first job obtained after RA or at their current or most recent job, but program group members reported higher average total income from all sources. It is not clear whether this higher average income is due to program group members working more total hours than control group members, obtaining more non-wage income, or some other reason, but program group members reported receiving approximately eight percent more income than control group members.
- RExO had no effect on recidivism. Using both administrative data and survey data, program group members were no less likely to have been convicted of a crime or incarcerated than control group members. While results from the survey indicate that RExO reduced the arrest rate (in the first and second years after RA) among program group members, the administrative data found no such effect. Analyses of this discrepancy suggest this difference is driven by either recall bias or otherwise inaccurate reporting on the part of program group members.
- There was little evidence that RExO affected an array of other outcomes. RExO had no effect on self-reported mental health, substance abuse, housing, and child support. There was some evidence that RExO may have affected health outcomes, as program group members were less likely to report having made any visits to the emergency room (a difference of 4.2 percentage points) or that their physical health limited their work or activities in the most recent month (a difference of 4.7 percentages points). Given that RExO grantees only rarely provided services directly to address these issues, it is perhaps not surprising that there are no clear effects in these areas.
Taken together, these findings present a mixed picture of the impact of RExO. On the one hand, it is clear that RExO increased the number and types of services received by program group members, and that it improved the self-reported labor market outcomes of participants as well. But there is little evidence this translated into any impacts on recidivism. Further, the impacts on employment, while statistically significant, are quite small in practical terms.