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.
I will add only two points. First, genuine rehabilitation cannot come from a government program. It has to come from the inmate's heart. Once he decides he wants to change the way he deals with the world, he has a chance. Until then, he doesn't. The government is simply not wise enough to know how to make the fundamental change true rehabilitation requires, and I (for one) wouldn't want a government powerful enough to try.
Second, we should nonetheless increase our spending on rehab. The chances are low but the stakes are high. Almost every prisoner returns to civil society. For his sake and for ours, every effort should be made to give him the best shot we can, even knowing the chances are poor.