Jobs, Skills and the Prison-to-Work Transition

Research Report: August 2019

By: Junjie Guo, Ananth Seshadri and Christopher Taber


Using county-level data on prison admission, prison release, parole supervision and employment opportunities by industry and skill requirements, we estimate the effect of the number of low-skill new hires by industry at the time of prison release on recidivism in Wisconsin. The only industry that leads to statistically significant decreases in recidivism is construction. The estimate suggests that an increase in the low-skill new hires by the construction industry equivalent to 0.01 percent of a county’s working-age population (for an average county like Manitowoc with a working-age population of about 50,000, this means 5 more low-skill new hires by the construction industry) would reduce recidivism by about 1 percent. This finding suggests that placing former prisoners into construction jobs could considerably reduce their recidivism rates. We document the occupations in which low skilled workers in the construction industry are employed and the skills they might need. Boosting these skills would presumably increase the odds of obtaining these types of jobs ultimately lowering recidivism rates. Another implication for future criminal justice reform is that relaxing mobility restrictions for individuals on parole supervision may reduce recidivism. This is particularly important for jurisdictions without sufficient low-skill construction job opportunities.

Read the full report