Panel Paper: Can Intensive Employment Strategies Support Successful Reentry?

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row E (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Hannah Betesh, Abt Associates, Inc. and Johanna Lacoe, California Policy Lab

To date, rigorous evaluations of employment-focused reentry programs have generally found that they do not lead to long-term improvements in employment and earnings or reductions in recidivism (though some approaches improve either one of these types of outcomes or both outcomes in the short term). Additionally, implementation studies embedded in these evaluations have often found that the interventions under study were either light-touch or were not implemented at a consistent level of intensity or with a consistent model across sites. However, growing evidence indicates that improving employment and earnings outcomes for low-income populations requires interventions—such as career pathways and sector strategies approaches—that emphasize longer-term connection to work through training and work experience in targeted, high-demand industries. Testing these approaches with justice-involved individuals therefore represents an important next step in building the evidence base on successful reconnection to the labor market after individuals’ involvement with the justice system.

The Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) evaluation, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Chief Evaluation Office, represents one such opportunity to understand whether these more intensive employment training approaches can improve outcomes for justice-involved populations. REO funding targets young adults (ages 18 to 24) and adults (ages 25 and over) with previous involvement in the criminal justice system. Programs funded under these grants aim to reduce recidivism and increase employment rates and earnings for these target populations by combining structured employment experiences—through models such as apprenticeship, work-based learning, and career pathways—with case management and supportive services to facilitate the transition to unsubsidized employment. This presentation will review the findings from a literature review conducted to determine how the REO evaluation might address specific unanswered questions in the existing evidence base on reentry programming and on effective employment strategies for low-income populations more generally.