The Urban Institute Reentry Roundtable Discussion Paper:
Crime, Work, and Reentry
intervention. And, as emphasized by Holzer, Raphael and Stoll (2003), criminal histories only
increase the obstacles faced by ex-offenders.
Social control theories suggest that employment can play an important role in reducing
criminal activity of all sorts, not just income-generating crime. Whether work has broad impacts
on crime, then, depends on how much and what types of offending individuals are involved in.
To the extent that offenders specialize in particular crimes for particular motivations (and these
are observable), efforts to redirect their energies could be targeted. To the extent that offenders
are embedded in a full lifestyle of a variety of anti-social behaviors (Hagan 1993), it is unlikely
that making one aspect of life more pro-social (work) will be sufficient to overcome long-held
behavioral patterns and pressures to persist. This may explain the success of comprehensive
interventions such as Job Corps,
as the programs are long enough and attempt to influence a
whole range of behaviors, one of which is work.
So the role of work is complicated. It likely takes a "good" job to help someone feel
sufficiently attached to a legitimate social institution to make dramatic changes in one's lifestyle.
But good jobs are not easy to come by for people with low skills, inconsistent work histories, and
criminal records. Furthermore, jobs with good long-term prospects do not always look attractive
in the short-run. On-the-job training can take months or more; investing in the necessary
schooling can take longer. Also, good jobs do not generally provide the really short-term features
most needed by those released from prison: immediate start dates and frequent pay periods. What
are seemingly normal conditions to someone with a lot of stability in life can be insurmountable
obstacles to a person trying to construct all aspects of his or her life simultaneously. And it is
quite possible that work in itself is not sufficient to overturn the full set of behaviors necessary to
live a more or less pro-social life, which is necessary for maintaining employment among other
things. Finally, it is not obvious that work should be preferred to schooling for many potential
offenders. The school-to-work literature, based on studies of the general population focusing on
high school dropouts, cautions that work can get in the way of longer term investments in human
capital (Hotz et al. 2002).
There are many other entities offering comprehensive approaches to reentry and/or substance abuse. Prominent
examples include Delancey Street and Pioneer Human Services.