Vocational Training in Prison
Helping Offenders Find Skilled Jobs and Stay out of Prison
July 23, 2015
By Christopher Zoukis
Employment is critical for a prisoner’s reintegration into society. Vocational training programs in prisons aim to provide inmates with skills to find a job and earn a living wage. Multiple studies prove inmates who take vocational training are more likely to find a job and stay out of prison. Yet only a third of state and federal prisoners and almost no prisoners in local jails receive vocational training.
Vocational Training Improves Employment Prospects
When an inmate is released from prison, employment is a critical factor as to whether he or she becomes a law-abiding citizen or commits more crimes. Up to 89% of those who return to prison are unemployed (Kimmitt, 2011). Vocational training provides individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to find and keep a job. Studies show that inmates who receive vocational training not only find employment, but are more likely to stay out of prison.
Vocational Training Slashes Recidivism and Boosts Employment
Studies show that inmates who receive vocational training are less likely to return to prison.
- 146 released offenders with vocational training were twice as likely to be employed (82% versus 42%). They were also 35% less likely to be arrested while on probation (32% versus 50%) (Luftig, J. T.,1978).
- A study of more than 7,000 released federal inmates revealed those who took apprenticeship or vocational training were 33% less likely to re-offend, and those who worked in federal prison industries (UNICOR) were 24% less likely to re-offend. The lower recidivism rates continued for eight to 10 years (Saylor, W. G., & Gaes, G. G., 1997, February).
- Ohio offenders with vocational training were 68% less likely to return to prison (25% versus 77%)(Allen, J. P.,1988, Fall).
- A study of over 18,000 released Ohio offenders revealed participation in vocational training reduced re-incarceration within two years by only 4% (30.1% versus 30.4%).(Anderson, S. V.,1995).
- Two studies focused on around 8,000 released Washington state offenders.
- The first study discovered inmates who earned a vocational certificate in prison had 52% less recidivism within five years of release (15% versus 31%), while in the second study the rate was 62% (12% versus 31%)(Kelso Jr., C. E., 2000, June).
- A study of 18,414 released Florida inmates in 1996-97 revealed inmates who earned a vocational certificate were 15% less likely to be re-incarcerated after two years (Moore, M. W., 2001). Those with prison work experience did even better.
- Because of the different results of the 1988 amd 1995 Ohio studies, 972 Ohio offenders were studied. Inmates who took vocational training were 19% less likely to return to prison (Batiuk, Lahm, McKeever, Wilcox, & Wilcox, 2005).
Program Graduates Who Become Certified Boast Astounding Success Rates
Studies in which inmates participated in vocational training had a 26% median reduction in recidivism, while studies in which inmates earned a vocational certificate had a 52% median reduction.
In a study of 3,000 released Virginia offenders, re-incarceration was reduced by 24% for those who participated but did not complete vocational training, and by 57% for those who completed their training (Hull, Forrester, Brown, Jobe, & McCullen, 2000).
Meta-Analyses Reveal the Overall Picture
Scientists use meta-analysis to make sense of multiple studies with differing results. Meta-analysis uses statistics to estimate the average effect from multiple studies, giving more weight to technically superior studies or studies using more subjects.
- A meta-analysis of 17 studies found participation in vocational training reduced recidivism by 22% and increased employment rates by 34% (Wilson, Gallagher, Coggeshall, & MacKenzie, 1999). However, most of the studies were badly designed or conducted and the researchers could not be confident of the results.
- A rigorous meta-analysis in 2006 only analyzed studies with the most stringent designs and found participation in vocational training reduced recidivism by 9% (Aos, S., Miller, M., & Drake, E., 2006).
- The RAND Corporation performed a meta-analysis of all U.S. studies reported between 1980 and 2011. RAND’s study is currently considered the best estimate of the effects of prison education (Davis, Bozick, Steele, Saunders, & Miles, 2013).
- A meta-analysis of 34 studies found inmates with vocational training are 36% less likely to be re-incarcerated than those without training.
- A separate meta-analysis of nine studies found inmates with vocational training were 28% more likely to be employed (Davis et al., 2013).
Another Missed Opportunity: Vocational Training Should be Expanded
Vocational training in prison helps released offenders find jobs and stay out of prison. Completing a full course of training and earning a certificate or other qualification has the greatest benefits. However, only a third of state and federal prisoners, and virtually none in local jails have access to vocational training. All prisoners who could benefit from vocational training should be able to receive it.
Allen, J. P. (1988, Fall). Administering quality education in an adult correctional facility. Community Services Catalyst, 78(4), 28-29.
Anderson, S. V. (1995). Evaluation of the impact of correctional education programs on recidivism. Office of Management Information Systems Bureau of Planning and Evaluation, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections.
Aos, S., Miller, M., & Drake, E. (2006). Evidence-based public policy options to reduce future prison construction, criminal justice costs: implications in Washington State. Washington State Institute for Public Policy.
Batiuk, M. E., Lahm, K. F., McKeever, M., Wilcox, N., & Wilcox, P. (2005, February). Disentangling the effects of correctional education. Criminal Justice Quarterly, 5(1), 55-75.
Davis, L. M., Bozick, R., Steele, J., Saunders, J., & Miles, J. N. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional education - A meta-analysis of programs that provide education to incarcerated adults. RAND Corporation.
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Kelso Jr., C. E. (2000, June). Recidivism rates for two education programs' graduates compared to overall Washington State rates. Journal of Correctional Education, 51(2), 233-236.
Kimmitt, S. (2011, June). The impact of community context on the risk of recidivism among parolees at one-, two-, and three-year follow-ups. Honors Thesis, Ohio State University.
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Luftig, J. T. (1978). Vocational education in prison: An alternative to recidivism. Journal of Studies in Technical Careers, 1, 31-42.
Moore, M. W. (2001). Analysis of the impact of inmate programs on recidivism. Florida Department of Corrections, Bureau of Research and Data Analysis. Tallahassee, Florida.
Saylor, W. G., & Gaes, G. G. (1997, February). Prep: Training inmates through industrial work participation and vocational and apprenticeship instruction. Corrections Management Quarterly, 1(2), 32-43.
Wilson, D. B., Gallagher, C. A., Coggeshall, M. B., & MacKenzie, D. L. (1999). A quantitative review and description of corrections-based education, vocation, and work programs. Corrections Management Quarterly, 3(4), 8-18.