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Real-world job training can cut the odds of returning to prison, UW study finds

University of Washington

The right kind of job training can reduce the odds of returning to a life of crime, University of Washington researchers have found.

Ex-felons trained and employed at real businesses were less than half as likely to wind up back in prison as those who spent their work-release time in dead-end jobs, according to the study from the UW's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.

The successful trainees also received counseling and other services along with their real-world job experience, said Paul Sommers, the study's author and a senior research fellow at the Evans School.

"Employment training can help ex-felons and former drug abusers change their lives and become productive employees and citizens," Sommers said. "However, training alone is not the answer; a supportive environment must be provided."

The findings are detailed in a case study of Pioneer Human Services, a Seattle nonprofit agency that runs 10 self-supporting businesses training and employing ex-offenders in such industries as metal fabrication and printing. The agency also provides counseling, housing and other services to many of the trainees.

With America's combined federal, state and local adult correctional population surging past 6 million, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, society has a stake in ensuring a succesful transition back the community, Sommers said.

Yet little is known about the effectiveness of different types of work release, said Sommers, whose research was funded by the Annie E. Casey and Ford foundations.

The study found that, compared to a group of ex-felons (matched by sex and age) at other work release facilities, those working in Pioneer-owned companies were less likely to be convicted of another crime after leaving.

Two years after leaving work release, in fact, 6.4 percent of Pioneer trainees had been re-incarcerated in state prison, compared to a 15.4 percent rate of re-incarceration in a comparison group graduating from other work-release programs in Washington state. "One difference is that most employment training organizations utilize classroom settings to teach relevant skills," Sommers said. "Pioneer provides training in settings similar to what most private sector employers use for on-the-job training."

The study also found that after release, the Pioneer-trained group earned more money and worked more hours than the comparison group.

Such success stems from Pioneer's combination of actual business training, housing and counseling, said Larry Fehr, Pioneer senior vice president. Sometimes described as an "entrepreneurial nonprofit," Pioneer arranges for its businesses to sell products and services within the agency and to customers that include Boeing, Hasbro, Nintendo, Costco and Microsoft.


Visit the job-training site: Work-release trainees, researcher Paul Sommers and training supervisors will be available for interviews and photos at Pioneer Human Services' sheet-metal factory, by appointment. The plant is near the First Avenue South Bridge in Southwest Seattle. To arrange a visit, contact Larry Fehr, Pioneer Human Services senior vice president, at 206-322-6645 ext. 211 or

Copies of the complete case study are available on request, or at Sommers can be reached at 206-685-0307 or 206-618-2927, or

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