“America Works” Works

December 20, 2018

Key Takeaways

For nonviolent ex-offenders, this hands-on approach appears to have paid off.

Only 31.1 percent of nonviolent ex-offenders who received America Works’ enhanced training were arrested during the 18 to 36 months in which they were tracked, compared with 50 percent of similar participants who received standard training from differing work programs.

New work programs could sharply reduce the number of repeat offenders and help shrink swollen prison populations. In 2015, approximately 650,000 inmates are going to be released from prisons and jails in the United States. By 2018, almost one third of them will have been re-arrested. However, new research from Economics professors Aaron Yelowitz & Chris Bollinger shows that a revolutionary new work program might be able to help fight America’s recidivism problem. The aforementioned work program, America Works (sorry, no relation to Netflix’s House of Cards) is an intensive, two-week job-search program for recently released inmates that is being implemented in New York. America Works offers, “enhanced job assistance” and, according to Yelowitz, is much more “hands-on” compared to other programs around the country.

Yelowitz and Bollinger’s research finds that programs like America Works, in particular ones that quickly place former inmates in jobs, significantly decrease the likelihood of ex-offenders with nonviolent histories being rearrested.

“The most noteworthy finding is that enhanced training matters,” explains Yelowitz. “But only to certain types of ex-offenders, in particular, nonviolent ones. This may not be surprising, since there’s only so much one can do to improve a person’s job prospects in two weeks, and that is a difficult mountain to climb for someone with an especially problematic history.”

However, for nonviolent ex-offenders this hands-on approach appears to have paid off. Only 31.1 percent of nonviolent ex-offenders who received America Works’ enhanced training were arrested during the 18 to 36 months in which they were tracked, compared with 50 percent of similar participants who received standard training from differing work programs. Unfortunately, the report also shows that enhanced training programs like America Works are currently extremely rare. “I would speculate it is because the programs tend to be more expensive,” explains Yelowitz. “Policymakers are focusing on the absolute costs, not the net costs (costs minus benefits). There is a significant benefit — reduced recidivism.”

Prison-To-Work: The Benefits of Intensive Job-Search Assistance for Former Inmates

Authors:

Aaron Yelowitz, Professor of Economics; Director of the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky 
Chris Bollinger, Sturgill Endowed Professor of Economics, Gatton College of Business and Economics at the University of Kentucky 

Publication:

Manhattan Institute Civic Report, 2015

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