Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Poster Paper: Prison Work-Release Programs and Incarcerated Women's Labor Market Outcomes

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Riverfront South/Central (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Haeil Jung, Korea University and Robert LaLonde, University of Chicago
This study examines the labor market effects of work-release programs for eligible female inmates. We focus on women in this study for three reasons. First, over the last 30 years, female incarceration rates increased rapidly, although they slowed down recently. Between 1978 and 2008, U.S. female incarceration rates increased by nearly seven fold from 10 to 69 per 10,000 people. Second, different from male incarceration, female incarceration is more directly related to children’s wellbeing, because the vast majority of incarcerated women are mothers and main caregivers of children. Thus, successful reentry is not only crucial to themselves, but also for their children and families. And finally, many studies of employment and training programs targeted toward the economically disadvantaged consistently find larger and more lasting effects for women than for their male counterparts. So it does not seem reasonable to assume that what has been learned about the effects of these work-experience programs for men would carry-over to women. This study uses a large longitudinal administrative data set that matched the prison records from the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) with earnings records from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES). Although we do not have data from a social experiment, we exploited the longitudinal structure of our data to arrive at plausible estimates of the impact of the state’s prison work-release program on women’s labor market outcomes.

Our analysis finds that regardless of whether women complete their term in an ATC, the longer an inmate spends at an ATC, they accumulate more earnings and experience higher probability of being employed during the time in an ATC. However, after incarceration, the labor market outcomes of ATC assignees (ATC completers and dropouts) incarcerated in Illinois state prison do not improve. Among ATC assignees, only those women who complete their term in an ATC experience earnings and employment gains as a result of their time in the ATC. For them these gains are also proportional to their time spent at the ATC. We interpret this finding as being consistent with the human capita theory of skill formation and job experience. Time in an ATC is valuable both to parolees and to society, because of the work related skills that they acquire.

By contrast, those who drop out from the ATCs and have to return to prison prior to their paroles see no improvement in their post-incarceration earnings and employment as a result of their time in an ATC. These dropouts are different than dropouts from an employment and training program. In this study, women dropout because of a rule infraction at the ATC and are forced to return to prison from where they are paroled. Although we know of no evidence that employers are aware of these failures, their post-prison labor market earnings and employment rates are depressed relative to ATC parolees as well as other paroles from minimum security facilities and in the long run even relative to their pre-prison employment rates.