Methods: We conducted a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the effectiveness of VR-JIT compared to pre-employment services-as-usual (SAU) implemented by two Vocational Villages within Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Participants (26 - 58 years old) were recruited from two state facilities and were randomized to receive SAU+VR-JIT (n=27) or SAU-only (n=16) using a 2:1 randomization scheme. Self-report measures of job interview self-efficacy, motivation, and anxiety and VR-JIT acceptability were obtained. MDOC employment readiness staff oriented participants on how to use VR-JIT on a laptop computer. A repeated measures analysis of variance (RM-ANOVA) evaluated between-group differences over time regarding self-reported job interview self-efficacy, motivation, and anxiety.
Results: SAU only and SAU+VR-JIT groups did not differ with respect to demographics, employment and justice-involved history (all p>0.10). RM-ANOVA revealed a significant decrease in job interview anxiety among SAU+VR-JIT (-12.8%) compared to SAU only (-3.8%; F=2.8, p=.05) This difference was characterized by a medium effect size (Partial Eta-Squared = -.10). The SAU+VR-JIT and SAU only groups did not differ between pre-test and post-test on self-reported measures of job interview self-efficacy and motivation. In addition, more than 90% of returning citizens self-reported that VR-JIT: 1) was enjoyable and easy to use; 2) helped them prepare to interview; 3) fit their learning goals; and 4) helped improve their job interview skills.
Conclusions and Implications: The study is the first to implement a computerized simulation to train social skills in a prison-setting. Moreover, this study used a rigorous RCT design that is uncommon in prison settings. Overall, our preliminary results suggest VR-JIT may be effective at reducing job interview anxiety for returning citizens and that returning citizens find VR-JIT to be highly acceptable. Job interview anxiety is a known mechanism of interview performance and may help facilitate access to employment. Future research is needed to evaluate whether VR-JIT enhances job interview skills and employment, while reducing recidivism.