Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Random Assignment Evaluation


The number of people incarcerated in the U.S. has quadrupled since the 1970s. The more than 600,000 people who are released from prison each year face a range of obstacles to successful reentry into the community. Perhaps not surprisingly, outcomes are often poor: Two-thirds of those who are released from prison are rearrested and half are reincarcerated within three years. States and localities are searching for programmatic approaches to improve reentry outcomes, but there is limited evidence about which strategies work best.

Many believe that it is most critical to address the employment needs of individuals with previous incarceration in the period immediately following their release. The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Reintegration of Ex-Offenders (RExO) Random Assignment Evaluation sought to provide highly reliable evidence about the effectiveness of a group of employment-oriented programs for returning citizens that have received funding from DOL. The Department of Labor selected a team led by Social Policy Research Associates (SPRA) to evaluate this important initiative. MDRC and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago were subcontractors to SPRA.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

The RExO project tested programs that received funding under the Prisoner Reentry Initiative, which was launched by DOL and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2005. The grantees funded by DOL provide job readiness, job placement, mentoring, and other services to returning citizens. The purpose of the RExO evaluation was to determine whether the programs were increasing employment and reducing recidivism.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The study used a random assignment research design. Returning citizens who agreed to participate in the study were assigned, at random, either to a program group that had access to the DOL-funded programs or to a control group that did not have access to the DOL-funded programs but could seek out other services in their communities. A total of 24 grantees in 18 states participated in the evaluation.

The evaluation team followed both groups for at least two years, using administrative records and surveys to measure employment and recidivism outcomes. The random assignment process ensures that the two groups were comparable at the start of the study, so any significant differences that emerge over time can be attributed to the services provided by the DOL grantees.