Abstract: Is Employment Associated with Reduced Recidivism? The Complex Relationship between Employment and Crime (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12380 Is Employment Associated with Reduced Recidivism? The Complex Relationship between Employment and Crime

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 11:45 AM
Pacific Concourse K (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Stephen J. Tripodi, PhD , Florida State University, Assistant Professor, Tallahassee, FL
Johnny S. Kim, PhD , University of Kansas, Assistant Professor, Lawrence, KS
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD , University of Denver, Assistant Professor, Denver, CO
Background and Purpose: In January 2008, 1% of American adults were incarcerated the highest rate in American history. Consequently, prisons are overcrowded, services are scarce, and hundreds of thousands of prisoners are being released. The most recent national recidivism study found that 52% of people released from prison were re-incarcerated within three years of release.

Most research indicates that offenders who obtain employment upon release from prison are less likely to reoffend. Few studies, however, have examined the influence of employment on the process of desisting from criminal activity by examining whether employment contributes to increasing time to re-incarceration.

This study is guided by the perception that desistance from criminal behavior is a process with three stages of behavior change: 1) motivation and commitment, 2) initial behavioral change, and 3) maintenance of change. The hypotheses are: 1) People released from prison who obtain employment have a lower likelihood of re-incarceration than those who do not obtain employment, and 2) Recidivists who obtained employment upon release will have longer periods crime-free than those who do not obtain employment.

Methods: This study analyzes data from a random sample (N=250) of Texas male parolees released from 2001 to 2005. The researchers used Cox regression modeling, which includes the cumulative proportion surviving at the end of a specified time interval, and the hazard rate, which is the probability that ex-inmates not re-incarcerated at the beginning of a specified time interval will be re-incarcerated during that interval. Two Cox regression models were analyzed: a first that examined likelihood of re-incarceration and a second that examined time to re-incarceration among recidivists.

Results: When assessing the entire sample, obtaining employment was associated with a 17% reduction in the hazard ratio (HR = .828), but the results were not statistically significant. The second Cox model was conducted solely with recidivists. Recidivists who obtained employment when released from prison had their monthly hazard ratio reduced by 68.5% (HR=.315, p<.001). Recidivists who did not obtain employment averaged 17.3 months before re-incarceration (SD=8.91), while those who did obtain employment averaged 31.4 months before re-incarceration (SD=14.76).

Implications: Previous research on the association of employment and recidivism primarily assesses recidivism as a dichotomous variable (re-incarcerated yes/no). This traditional view leaves little middle ground for ex-prisoners who are in the process of changing. The National Research Council suggests that people released from prison work through change stages. This study found that although employment did not decrease the chances of recidivism at a significant level, it did contribute to an increase in time to re-incarceration, perhaps indicating it enables initial behavioral change. Interventions to increase ex-prisoners' time crime-free in the community should be a priority for parole service providers. Specifically, continuous monitoring of ex-prisoners' motivation levels and implementation of interventions to increase motivation appear warranted. Motivational Interviewing and Solution-Focused therapy are two interventions that may be promising for enhancing motivation due to their focus on helping clients overcome their ambivalence regarding behavioral changes and their strength-based approaches to goal achievement.