There are many instances in the media of programs that appear to be successful and while some may be for a short time and for singular reasons, the evidence as determined by rigorous evaluation has still not identified large scale and replicable programs that reduce recidivism at a statistical level high enough to be able to effectively challenge the current 60-70% national recidivism rate; and indeed, some programs actually make the problem worse.

1(January 2002) James Q. Wilson describes rigorous evaluation in the text he co-edited with Joan Petersilia, Crime: Public Policies for Crime Control. An excerpt. “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crime-prevention programs under way. Many may work (and, of course, all their leaders think they work). But which actually work can only be determined by a rigorous evaluation. Not many have been evaluated in this way. A rigorous evaluation requires four things to be done: First, people must be assigned randomly to either the prevention program or a control group. Random assignment virtually eliminates the chance that those in the program will differ in some unknown way from those not in it. Random assignment is better than trying to match people in the two because we probably will not know (or even be able to observe) all the ways by which they should be matched. Second, the prevention must actually be applied. Sometimes people are enrolled in a program but do not in fact get the planned treatment. Third, the positive benefit, if any, of the program must last for at least one year after the program ends. It is not hard to change people while they are in a program; what is difficult is to make the change last afterward. Fourth, if the program produces a positive effect (that is, people in it are less likely to commit crimes that similar ones not in it), that program should be evaluated again in a different location. Some programs will work once because they are run by exceptional people or in a community that facilitates its success; the critical test is to see if they will run when tried elsewhere using different people. (p. 553)

2- (January 2005) Traditional service-based rehabilitation programs have been in use for the past several decades and including the more recent faith-based efforts, they have a dismal record of success, noted by Farabee (2005): “I wish it were otherwise, but scientific evidence is sorely lacking to support the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs for criminal offenders. It is similarly lacking to support the effectiveness of most programs aimed at treating conditions that exacerbate crime, such as substance abuse and dependence. Although a limited menu of behavioral and pharmacological treatments have shown small to moderate effects among offenders when administered under controlled research conditions, those effects tend to decline rapidly soon after criminal justice supervision is withdrawn. Moreover, these empirically validated interventions are almost entirely unavailable to offenders in day-to-day practice. The vast majority of services for offenders and substance abusers in this country are group-based, peer-administered, and loosely modeled on an amalgam of psycho-educational and twelve-step principles. Typically, the “ingredients” or “mechanisms of action” of these interventions are so vaguely defined as to be essentially unmeasurable, unverifiable, and unfalsifiable. And because the interventions are rarely, if ever, standardized or systemized, they are delivered quite differently across different programs, making it nearly impossible to discern the effects of such an elusive target.” (Farabee, D. (2005). Rethinking rehabilitation: Why can’t we reform our criminals?. Washington D.C.: AEI Press. p. ix)

3-(October 2006) Another example of making things worse comes from Florida State University’s L. Fairhurst (2006) commenting on Mears, D. P., Roman, C. G., Wolff, A., & Buck, J., Faith-based efforts to improve prisoner reentry: Assessing the logic and evidence, Journal of Criminal Justice, 2006 August, Vol. 34 Iss. 4, pp. 351-367. “The fundamental flaw in all the studies: the absence of a clear, consistent operational definition of “faith-based.” Is it, for example, nonprofit organizations with religious affiliations delivering secular services such as vocational and drug counseling—or is it individual faith volunteers conducting Bible classes with prisoners? Furthermore, where gains were declared, it was unclear which practices or combinations of secular and religious components generated them. “Regardless of the definitions and measurements used and the manner in which findings were presented, the review found few studies that had generated data credible enough to justify public support—or outright rejection—of faith-based programming. “As an example, Mears cites the Prison Fellowship Ministries, founded by Charles Colson, the former Nixon aide who became a born-again Christian while imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal. Colson has touted the success of his ministries based on studies that show lower recidivism rates among participants. However, Mears noted that the studies focused only on inmates who completed the program, while comparing its recidivism rates to those of all participants—including dropouts—of selected secular programs. “In fact, if recidivism rates in Colson’s programs were revised to include all participants, “graduates” or not, results would be worse than those for the comparison groups. Where successes might be construed to exist, it’s unclear what to credit—the computer and life skills classes or its fundamentalist Christian doctrine. Where recidivism increases among its program participants, did faith-based programming play a part by leading some inmates to believe that ultimate responsibility for their actions lies with God, not them? Like arguments that faith-based programs decrease recidivism, this possibility remains to be demonstrated empirically.” FSU News: Faith-based prison programs claim to reduce recidivism, but there’s little evidence, says FSU research. L. Fairhurst (2006)

4-(June 2007) A recent example of a traditionally designed rehabilitation program actually making things worse is reported by Wilson (2007) regarding Project Greenlight, a well-funded and closely evaluated—rare for the field—reentry effort that failed spectacularly: “Project Greenlight participants showed worse outcomes for every type of recidivism at 6 and 12 months after release. The chart “Percent of Participants Who Recidivated at 6 and 12 Months” shows the percentage of each group that experienced any kind of arrest (misdemeanor or felony), felony arrest only, and parole revocation. It is especially noteworthy—because it is statistically significant—that the overall arrest rate for the Project Greenlight group was 10 percent higher than that for the TSP group at 12 months postrelease (34 percent versus 24 percent). Also statistically significant is the 12 percent more parole revocations experienced by the Project Greenlight group than the UPS group at 12 months postrelease (25 percent versus 13 percent). “Several findings of the evaluation were at odds with program expectations. Most notably, Project Greenlight participants’ postrelease outcomes were significantly worse than those of the TSP and UPS groups. The evaluation found that the Project Greenlight program had no effect on the interim outcomes that it was designed to address—including housing, employment, and parole—and that Project Greenlight participants fared significantly worse than the two control groups in rearrest and parole revocation rates at the 1-year mark. In addition, although Project Greenlight participants displayed greater knowledge of parole conditions, showed more positive attitudes toward parole, received more service referrals, and reported greater contact with service providers after release, none of these translated into better outcomes.” (Habilitation or Harm: Project Greenlight and the Potential Consequences of Correctional Programming, by James A. Wilson, Ph.D.)

5-(February 2007) Another recent and much more costly example of making things worse, by California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation—$1 billion for all prisoner and parolee programs since 1989, and $278 million of that for in-prison programs—was reported by the Office of the Inspector General (2007): “According to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more than 36,000 of the state’s 172,500 inmates—21 percent of the adult prison population—are serving prison terms for drug offenses. An even higher percentage reportedly has underlying substance abuse problems. A recent University of California study estimated that 42 percent of California inmates have a “high need” for alcohol treatment and 56 percent have a high need for drug treatment. Recidivism rates for California inmates in general continue to be among the highest in the country. “In a 60-page special review released Wednesday, the Office of the Inspector General reported that numerous university studies of the state’s in-prison substance abuse programs conducted over the past nine years consistently show no difference in recidivism rates between inmates who participated in the programs and those who received no substance abuse treatment. One five-year University of California, Los Angeles, study of the state’s two largest in-prison programs found, in fact, that the 12-month recidivism rates for inmates who received in-prison treatment was slightly higher than that of a control group.” Office of the Inspector General, Sacramento, California, February 21, 2007 Press Release “The states substance abuse treatment program for inmates do not reduce recidivism, yet cost the state $143 million per year” , pp. 1-2 italicized in original)

6-(2009) Another recent evaluation of a major reentry effort making things worse: the Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative, funded at $100 million dollars, which worked with criminals inside of prison and out, showed that results for the adult males revealed that the program actually made the problem worse. “Cumulative rearrest rates were calculated for 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 21, and 24 months after release. SVORI program participants were less likely to have an officially recorded rearrest during the 24-month period after release. The differences were small and not significant for the men. … By 24 months post-release, the reincarceration rate for adult male SVORI program participants was about 8% higher than the non-SVORI rate (42%, as opposed to 39%)” (p. 125)

7-(April 2009) Regarding faith based efforts: The report from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, Evidence-Based Public Policy Options to Reduce Crime and Criminal Justice Costs: Implications in Washington State, notes that of the five faith-based programs they examined there was a zero percent change in crime outcomes, also noting that there were “too few evaluations to date.” p. 188 (p.19 in pdf file)

8-(2010) A recent community program designed to reduce crime, has apparently increased it, as this Rand Report indicates. An excerpt from the Rand Research Brief. “One Vision work is performed by an executive director, a program director, five area managers, and more than 40 community coordinators, and supported by a data manager. Most staff members were raised in and therefore are intimate with inner-city street life and the “code of the street. “RAND Corporation and Michigan State University researchers assessed the effects of the program in three areas of Pittsburgh: Northside, the Hill District, and Southside…. “The researchers measured changes in homicide, aggravated assaults, and gun assaults before and after the intervention, controlling for neighborhood attributes, seasonal effects, and trends over time. Rather than finding that One Vision was associated with a measurable reduction in violence, they found the program to have no effect on homicide rates and to be associated with increases in aggravated assaults and gun assaults in all three areas.”

9-(September 2010) Scared Straight Programs These programs, designed to prevent delinquency, which were clearly debunked in the past, are attempting a comeback, but the research is clear, they are a failure and actually make the situation worse, as this meta-evaluation reveals Scared Straight” and Other Juvenile Awareness Programs for Preventing Juvenile Delinquency (Last Updated, April 2004) By Anthony Petrosino, Carolyn Turpin Petrosino, John Buehler (p. 6)[at the jump type “scared straight” into the search panel for the report] An excerpt. “Programs like ‘Scared Straight’ involve organized visits to prison facilities by juvenile delinquents or children at risk for becoming delinquent. The programs are designed to deter participants from future offending by providing first-hand observations of prison life and interaction with adult inmates. Results of this review indicate that not only does it fail to deter crime but it actually leads to more offending behavior. Government officials permitting this program need to adopt rigorous evaluation to ensure that they are not causing more harm to the very citizens they pledge to protect.”

10-(April 2011) London, England’s Diamond Initiative Program England produces another in a long line of programs designed by public leadership in America and abroad, which actually increases recidivism among the participants rather than reducing it, as reported by the London Evening Standard. An excerpt. “A flagship Met police scheme to cut crime among convicts freed from jail has had no impact on the reoffending rate, an official study revealed today. “The £11 million “Diamond Initiative” was set up to rehabilitate serial offenders by offering them help with problems such as drug and alcohol misuse, housing, debt and unemployment after their release. “Scotland Yard chiefs hoped that the scheme, which focused on criminals freed after sentences of 12 months or less, would lead to a significant drop in reoffending and help to deliver the “rehabilitation revolution” wanted by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. “An official analysis of the project has found, however, that 42.4 per cent of participants committed new crimes within a year of leaving jail – almost identical to the 41.6 per cent reoffending rate among a similar group of convicts who received no special help after being freed…. “In all, a total of 556 crimes were committed by 156 of the offenders asked to join the Diamond scheme. That compares with the 446 offences committed by 136 criminals among the similarly sized “control” sample of freed convicts.”

11- (October 2011) Faith Based Prisons Research is Inconclusive This report published in the Alabama Law Review examine the research about Faith Based Prison’s rehabilitative effectiveness. This Article examines everything we know about the effectiveness of faith-based prisons, which is not very much. Most studies cannot be taken seriously because they are tainted by the “self-selection problem.” It is hard to determine the effect of faith-based prison programs because they are voluntary, and volunteers are more likely to be motivated to change and are therefore already less likely to commit infractions or be re-arrested. This problem is the same one that education researchers have struggled with in determining whether private schools are better than public schools. The only credible studies done so far compare participants with nonparticipants who volunteered for the program but were rejected. Some studies in this category find no effect, but some do find a modest effect. But even those that find an effect are subject to additional critiques: for instance, participants may have benefited from being exposed to treatment resources that non-participants were denied. Thus, based on current research, there is no strong reason to believe that faith-based prisons work. However, there is also no strong reason to believe that they do not work. I conclude with thoughts on how faith-based prison programs might be improved, and offer a strategy that would allow such experimentation to proceed consistent with the Constitution. (p. 43) Retrieved February 12, 2014 from

12-(August 2012) Job’s Programs Don’t Work Of the eight programs examined in a new article, “Ex-Offender Job Placement Programs Do No Reduce Recidivism”, in the American Corrections Association’s Journal, Corrections Today, two were found to make the problem worse. An excerpt. “Ex-offender job placement interventions (e.g., job-readiness classes, job training, supported work, job placement, transitional employment, job clubs) are not evidence-based in reducing recidivism. This assertion seems to be counter-intuitive, and certainly conflicts with popular belief, as well as the expansion of these programs. It also appears to contradict what the research tells us about the link between employment and crime desistence. Nonetheless, the accumulation of evidence during the past half century indicates that exoffender job placement programs are not effective in reducing recidivism… “The Jobs Training and Partnership Act (JPTA) evaluation. Next, the JPTA evaluation took place in1985. In this study, young adults with arrest records were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. Treatment group interventions included job-readiness, vocational exploration, job shadowing and other similar services. After 21 months, no difference was found between treatment and control group rearrests. For those followed for three years, individuals who received job-related services recidivated at a slightly higher rate than those receiving no assistance. “The Opportunity to Succeed (OPTS) program. OPTS, initiated in1994, was a demonstration program designed to deliver comprehensive services, including job placement assistance, for reentering criminally involved individuals with substanceuse disorders. The goal of the intervention was to reduce substance use relapse and recidivism. The evaluation, funded by the National Institute of Justice, included random assignment to OPTS or a control group. Rearrest was measured both by self report and official records. Sadly,again, no significant difference was found between the two groups. However, OPTS participants did have a higher rate of technical violations. (pp. 1-2)”

13-(March 2013) Halfway Houses Don’t Work A new report from Pennsylvania, reported in the New York Times, reveals that prisoners paroled to halfway houses are returning to prison at a higher rate than those being paroled to the streets, further validation that traditional rehabilitation strategies are failures, often making the problems worse. An excerpt. “The federal government and states across the country have spent billions of dollars in recent years on sprawling, privately run halfway houses, which are supposed to save money and rehabilitate inmates more effectively than prisons do. “But now, a groundbreaking study by officials in Pennsylvania is casting serious doubt on the halfway-house model, concluding that inmates who spent time in these facilities were more likely to return to crime than inmates who were released directly to the street…. “The study by the Pennsylvania Corrections Department found that 67 percent of inmates sent to halfway houses were rearrested or sent back to prison within three years, compared with 60 percent of inmates who were released to the streets.”

14- (July 2015) A success story. Some programs do work and here is one: D.C. Central Kitchen , as noted in this story from the Daily Signal: “The Kitchen,” as it’s known, was founded in 1989 by restaurateur turned philanthropist Robert Egger. This month, it will celebrate the graduation of its 100th class of culinary job training program students—men and women with histories of homelessness, incarceration, poverty or simply job frustration that have come to D.C. Central Kitchen either in search of new skills and a fresh start or, sometimes, at the insistence of an exasperated family member or probation officer.

The 14-week-long culinary job training program offered and funded by D.C. Central Kitchen teaches students how to work in a kitchen environment, preparing them for jobs at partner restaurants and hospitality groups in the D.C. area.

It boasts impressive statistics, including a 93 percent job placement rate, a 2 percent recidivism rate among graduates and a cost of $10,000 per student. In contrast, it’s an estimated $50,000 a year to house an incarcerated individual.

Retrieved July 19, 2015 from

15- July 2015. Teen Cognitive Therapy Program Fails. Evaluated by the Vera Institute with the findings revealing:

“Vera determined that the program did not lead to reductions in recidivism for participants. The change in recidivism for the eligible 16- to 18-year-olds, adjusted for external factors, was not statistically significant when compared to the matched historical comparison group. Furthermore, the 19-year-olds and the study group (16- to 18-year-olds) dis­played similar trends in rates of recidivism over time, indicating that any shifts were the result of factors other than the ABLE program. The program did not reduce recidivism and therefore did not meet the pre-defined threshold of success of a 10 percent reduction in recidivism bed days.”

Retrieved July 28, 2015 from

16- August 2015, Ex-Offender Reentry Program. Evaluated by the Department of Labor, as noted in an article from The Dailey Signal:

An excerpt.

The Department of Labor has released the results of its two-year evaluation of the federal program Reintegration of Ex-Offenders (RExO), designed to help ex-offenders find employment and reduce recidivism.

The evaluation provides evidence that the RExO grants are ineffective. While disappointing, the results are not surprising: Failure is the norm for federal social programs.

The program began as a combined initiative of the U.S. Departments of Labor and Justice and other federal agencies in 2005. It provides grants to local organizations to administer employment-focused prisoner re-entry programs.

The rigorous multi-site experimental evaluation, recently finished, assessed the effectiveness of federal grants to 24 local employment-based re-entry programs.

Almost 4,700 former prisoners were randomly assigned to program and control groups.

While members of the program group were more likely to receive employment and mentoring services than their counterparts in the control group, these services had only a slight effect on employment and earnings, while having no impact on criminal justice outcomes.

Retrieved August 28, 2015 from

From the Evaluation:

RExO had no effect on recidivism. (p. ES-3)

There was little evidence that RExO affected an array of other outcomes. (p. ES-3)

Retrieved August 28, 2015 from

17- October 2017 Prison Rehabilitation & Reentry Programs; 2014 National Research Council book: The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences,

The complete book is available online,with the link to the excerpt, at the end of the excerpt.

“What Works In Prison Rehabilitation And Reentry

“In any given year, approximately three-quarters of a million prisoners leave prison and return to free society (Petersilia, 2003). Research on reentry includes evaluations of prisoner reentry programs, as well as more basic research on how individuals navigate the reentry process. The most significant barriers to successful reentry include the difficulties faced in obtaining satisfactory employment and housing, arranging successful family reunification, and obtaining health care and transportation (e.g., Travis, 2005). (Further discussion of consequences after release from prison with respect to health care, employment, and families is provided in Chapters 7, 8, and 9, respectively.)

“Many corrections agencies have created special offices with staff assigned to deal specifically with prisoner reentry. National organizations, including the Council of State Governments and the National Governors Association, have established working groups to address reentry, such as the Reentry Policy Council. The federal Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative in 2003 awarded more than $100 million to 69 jurisdictions for the establishment of reentry programs. In the 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush included a promise of federal support for reentry efforts. More than $13 million was granted to 20 states in 2006 through the Prisoner Reentry Initiative Award program. And more than $270 million in federal funding has been dedicated to reentry over the past 4 years through the Second Chance Act of 2007.

“Some research suggests that certain kinds of proactive programs of prison rehabilitation can be effective in neutralizing or even reversing the otherwise criminogenic effects of incarceration. The advent of so-called “evidence-based corrections” has encouraged correctional administrators, policy makers, and officials to place increased reliance on program evaluation and quantitative outcome measures to determine “what works” in prison rehabilitation and postprison reentry programs—both being evaluated primarily on the basis of how well they reduce recidivism (Cullen and Gendreau, 2000; MacKenzie, 2000; Sherman, 1998; Sherman et al., 1997).

“One especially promising model of prison rehabilitation, known as risk-need-responsivity or RNR (Andrews and Bonta, 2006), has been successful in reducing recidivism when (1) prisoners at medium to high risk of recidivating are targeted, (2) they are assessed to determine their “criminogenic needs” (individual issues known to be associated with future criminal behavior), and (3) they are placed in rehabilitative programs designed to address those needs in a manner consistent with their learning styles to ensure their responsivity.

“In addition, cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on the way “an individual perceives, reflects upon, and, in general, thinks about their [sic] life circumstances” (Dobson and Khatri, 2000, p. 908)—has been shown to improve postrelease outcomes in some studies. The therapy is premised on the notion that “criminal thinking” is an important factor in deviant behavior (e.g., Beck, 1999). Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been used with a range of juvenile and adult prisoners inside institutions or in the community, and has been administered alone or as part of a multifaceted program (Lipsey et al., 2007). Meta-analyses of numerous and diverse studies of program effectiveness indicate that under the appropriate circumstances, when conducted by appropriately trained professionals, this kind of therapy can significantly reduce recidivism (e.g., Lipsey et al., 2007; Losel and Schmucker, 2005). Perhaps not surprisingly, better results were obtained for programs that were rated as better quality, had participants spend longer amounts of time in treatment, and were combined with other services.

“Medical treatment, particularly for drug addictions, combined with a “continuum of care” that includes follow-up or aftercare services in the community for prisoners once they have been released, has been found to be effective in controlling substance abuse and reducing recidivism. Further discussion of this issue is included in Chapter 7. Education and work programming have long been viewed as essential components of rehabilitation. They also serve other purposes, such as eliminating idleness and thereby reducing management problems. Moreover, when work assignments directly support the needs of the institution, they decrease the costs of incarceration. Support for such programs comes in part from research demonstrating a strong relationship between criminal activity and low levels of schooling and unemployment. However, the quantity and quality of research examining the effectiveness of such programs in reducing recidivism and increasing employment are extremely limited.

“Despite the widely recognized importance of prisoner education, comprehensive, reliable data are not available on the nature and quality of programs offered, the levels of actual participation, and the overall effectiveness of various approaches (MacKenzie, 2008). Studies often examine numbers of prisoners participating in such programs but overlook the actual amount of time spent in the classroom, specific program components, and the level of academic achievement attained. Other than documenting the impressive success of certain postsecondary prison education programs, research has as yet not resolved the critical issues of what works for whom, when, why, and under what circumstances, as well as the way in which special challenges faced by inmate-students in prison, such as lockdowns, transfers between facilities, and restricted movement, affect their learning and undermine their educational progress.

“The available research indicates that, when carried out properly, certain forms of cognitive-behavioral therapy, drug treatment, academic programs, and vocational training appear to reduce recidivism. As yet, fewer studies have demonstrated positive outcomes for prison work programs (such as correctional industries) and “life skills” programs. (See, generally, Cecil et al., 2000; Fabelo, 2002; Gerber and Fritsch, 1995; MacKenzie, 2006, 2012; Steurer et al., 2001; Western, 2008; Wilson et al., 2000.)”

Retrieved October 20, 2017 from