DOJ Evaluations on Offender Rehabilitation Are Not Encouraging


Most of the data is not encouraging, indicating that we have a long way to go as to effective offender rehabilitation and reentry.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Thirty-five years of speaking for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Post-Masters’ Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University


Most support offender rehabilitation efforts because we don’t have many options as to managing the prison population. If governors are demanding reductions in correctional spending (the vast majority are), then we need alternatives.

I interviewed hundreds of successful offenders who dramatically rearranged their lives after prison, and they were grateful for the programs offered. But most succeeded because they clearly understood their circumstances and had family support to help them reintegrate.

We have two choices for offender management, sentencing reform and rehabilitation.

Sentencing Reform

To reduce the prison population in the US, we would have to include violent and multi-repeat offenders.

Fifty-three percent of state prisoners are there for violent crimes for their “current” sentences. If you included past convictions for violence or multiple repeat felonies, the percent deemed dangerous would go much higher.

The bottom line is that the country will not support sentencing reform for violent offenders and those in prison for five or more felony convictions, which may be as high as seventy-five percent of prisoners.


Offender rehabilitation programs should be a research priority for the country. For example, there is no question as to our support for enhanced cancer research, but crime affects many more people than cancer.

But the latest assessments by the Department of Justice’s Crime at USDOJ are simply not encouraging, as listed below. There are better results for pretrial diversion programs, but those offenders do not have the serious criminal records of those coming out of prison.

Recent Data from the DOJ’s Crime Solutions.Gov

San Diego (Calif.) Prisoner Reentry Program Rated No Effects

The program, established by Senate Bill 618 (California), educated and rehabilitated incarcerated individuals who committed nonviolent felony offenses in an effort to reduce recidivism and revocations to prison.

The program is rated No Effects. There was a small but statistically significant impact on program participants’ rates of rearrest. But there was no significant differences on reconviction and return to prison rates between program participants and those who were not in the program.

Learn more about this program.

Collaborative Program for Reducing Re-arrest rated No Effects

This Collaborative Behavioral Management program involved collaborative sessions among a parole officer, treatment counselor, and the parolee. The intervention provided parole officers with positive tools to manage parolee behavior.

The program aimed to reduce substance use, crime, and re-arrest among drug-involved parolees. The program is rated No Effects. Results of an evaluation included six sites showed that the intervention did not significantly reduce re-arrest or overall drug use.

Learn more about this program.

“Opportunity to Succeed” Rated No Effects

This program was designed to reduce relapse and criminal recidivism by providing comprehensive aftercare services to individuals convicted of felonies, with alcohol- and drug-related histories.

The program is rated No Effects. There were no statistically significant program effects on rearrests, substance abuse relapse, or employment.

Learn more about this program.

Challenge Incarceration Program is Promising

This boot camp intervention in Minnesota combines a traditional military institutional program for 6 months with two 6-month phases of intensive, supervised release aftercare. The program is rated Promising. Program participants had statistically significant lower rates of re-arrest, felony reconviction, and return to prison for a new offense than the comparison group, but no difference in the rate of return to prison for any offense.

Learn more about this program.

Primary Care-Based Complex Care Management (San Francisco, Calif.) Rated “No Effects”

The program is designed to provide a lower cost alternative to emergency medical treatment for chronically ill individuals who have been recently released from prison. Treatment group participants had significantly lower rates of emergency room use, compared with the control group. However, there was no significant impact on recidivism and primary care utilization.

Learn more about the Primary Care–Based Complex Care Management Program.

Ready, Willing, and Able Rated “No Effects”

Ready, Willing, and Able (RWA) is a transitional employment program that gives those who are newly released from prison the opportunity to work and find housing. RWA seeks to provide offenders with work and foundational skills so that they can obtain a job, secure housing, and become financially independent. There was no significant impact on arrests, convictions, and prison sentences after 3 years; however, it did have a significant impact on jail sentences after 3 years.

Learn more about RWA.

Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration Program Rated “No Effects”

This program is designed to improve behavioral and performance job skills, provide services and support, and help find job placements for participants leaving prison. The results showed that participation in transitional job services led to increased employment early in the follow-up period, but as participants went from transitional jobs to regular jobs, the employment increase faded. There was no significant impact on recidivism over the 2-year follow-up.

Learn more about the Transitional Jobs Reentry Demonstration Program.

EMPLOY (Minnesota) Program Rated “Promising”

EMPLOY is a prisoner-reentry employment program designed to reduce recidivism by helping participants find and retain employment after release from prison. It provides participants with employment assistance during the last several months of confinement through the first year following their release from prison. Results suggested that offenders who participated in the program reported significantly lower rates of recidivism and higher rates of employment post-release.

Learn more about the EMPLOY Program.

But Let’s Take a Look at Minnesota’s “Promising” Program

Of the 232 EMPLOY participants, 65 (28%) completed the program, 43 (19%) successfully participated until their sentence expired, and the other 124 (53%) dropped out.

Of the dropouts, 49 were dropped prior to their release from prison and the remaining 75 were dropped post-release in the community.

The main reasons why the 49 dropped out prior to release include a refusal of services provided, failure to complete a resume, getting fired from a MINNCOR job, and institutional discipline.

Among the 75 post-release dropouts, failure to maintain contact was the main reason for dropping out.

Compared with the nonparticipants, offenders who entered EMPLOY had lower rates of recidivism for all four measures, but when you count the number of dropouts, it hardly seems like a success.

Recidivism-Most Released From Prison Go Back to Prison

The most common understanding of recidivism is based on data from the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, stating that two-thirds (68 percent) of prisoners released were arrested for a new crime within three years of release from prison, and three-quarters (77 percent) were arrested within five years.

Within 3 years of release, 49.7% of inmates either had an arrest that resulted in a conviction with a disposition of a prison sentence or were returned to prison without a new conviction because they violated a technical condition of their release; as did 55.1% of inmates within 5 years of release, see Crime in America-Recidivism.

Additional Data:

The Serious and Violent Offender Reentry Initiative (SVORI) was the federal government’s primary effort using evidence-based tactics and programs to reduce recidivism. It showed few (if any) positive results.

Go to the federal government’s Crime Solutions.Gov database and plug in “recidivism.” There are no prison or post-release efforts marked as “effective,” see

Per a survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, money for treatment for probation caseloads is almost nonexistent. It was 1 percent in 2005. It was 1 percent in 2015.

That’s not to say that some probationers don’t get treatment, but if they do, it comes from external sources, see Crime in America-Probation.

When programs are offered to offenders, some work, some don’t and some make things worse. When they do work, the results are generally below a ten percent reduction, see Crime in America-Nothing Works Well.


While there may be a reason for a bit of optimism in reports from advocacy organizations, see What Works, most data is not encouraging, indicating that we have a long way to go as to effective offender rehabilitation.


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