Study finds jobs after prison don't cut recidivism

Of 14,000 freed annually, half return in three years

March 16, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

Maryland prisoners who land jobs after they are freed are no less likely to commit more crimes and return to prison than those who don't find work, according to an Urban Institute study released yesterday.

The study tracked 324 state prisoners for six months who returned to Baltimore in 2001, with the goal of determining what factors affected their chances for successfully re-entering society.

Within six months of their release, one-third of the prisoners studied had been rearrested and 10 percent had been convicted of a crime, half of them on drug charges. The recidivism rate was the same for former inmates who found work as for those who didn't.

The finding, which is at odds with previous studies, surprised researchers.

"There are a lot of dimensions to successful re-entry, and employment is just one of them," said Nancy G. La Vigne, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center. The institute is a nonpartisan research organization.

The study comes at a time when Mary Ann Saar, secretary of Maryland's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is calling for better job-training, education, drug addiction treatment and behavior counseling to lower the state's recidivism rate.

Statewide, 50 percent of the 14,000 prisoners released each year return to prison within three years.

Previous studies have found that having legitimate employment helps reduce the odds of former prisoners committing crimes, so the Urban Institute researchers still support job-training programs for inmates, La Vigne said.

She said the sample size used in the Baltimore study was relatively small and that other factors, such as drug addiction, might have negated the benefits of steady employment in the group studied.

Forty percent of the former inmates reported using heroin daily before they were imprisoned. "They may find jobs and relapse, and they're going to end up back in prison," she said.

Two-thirds of the former prisoners reported having worked for at least one week since their release, and that work was much more likely to be full time if they had held a work-release job. Of those who were employed, 54 percent relied on friends and 45 percent on family to find their jobs.

Half of former inmates settled in new neighborhoods, places they considered safer and less likely to lead them into more trouble.

Also, former inmates who settled in new communities were no less likely to return to prison than those who returned to their old neighborhoods.

Titled "Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry," the study is a pilot project intended to help researchers refine their procedures for a broader inquiry of prisoner re-entry issues.

La Vigne presented the findings at the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, one of the groups that funded the study.

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