New Website Features “What Works” in Prisoner Re-entry


Expanding the concept of evidence-based criminal justice, a new website lists and evaluates prisoner re-entry programs nationwide. Launched yesterday by the Urban Institute, the Council of State Governments, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Prisoner Reentry Institute, the “What Works Clearinghouse” can be seen at

As explained by the Urban Institute’s Nancy La Vigne, the ongoing project is aimed at identifying and analyzing all research done on the subject in the last three decades so that government agencies and other criminal-justice practitioners can have a scientifically solid basis for deciding what service programs to adopt for the 700,000 people released from custody each year. The new site was unveiled at a national conference on prisoner re-entry in Washington, D.C.

La Vigne and colleague Hannah Dodd, along with the Council of State Governments’ Hank Rosen, said that some 1,034 studies had been identified as potentially worth listing on the website. So far, 276 have been processed and more than 600 are to be reviewed. Programs are characterized by whether they have strong or modest beneficial effects, no effect, or strong or modest harmful effects. The studies’ “rigor” also is assessed, which the site operators translated as “how much can we trust the findings?”

Preliminary findings have been compiled in a few areas. For example, comprehensive “aftercare” programs for ex-inmates were found to be usually effective, including four of five comprehensive programs for the mentally ill. Employment programs for ex-offenders had mixed results. Only about half of prison industries programs were rated as effective.

Several important areas have not been thoroughly studied. There were no good analyses found on physical health of ex-inmates, and only three on housing issues. The website plans to add evaluations in other topic areas this summer: substance abuse, cognitive behavioral therapy, and education. Others will be added in the coming years.

The federally supported conference this week on the U.S. Second Chance Act was attended by senior officials from the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor, members of Congress, experts in corrections, victims and survivors of crime, former inmates, leaders of state and local government agencies. and administrators of not-for-profit organizations getting federal funding. Among the speakers were U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Labor Hilda Sollis, and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA). Fattah commented that the programs discussed this week “are crucial to ensuring that former inmates have all the necessary resources they need to adjust to living outside the confines of prison.”

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