MDRC/DOL study tests effectiveness of employment programs

RecycleForce employee at work.

RecycleForce of Indianapolis has not only found success in hiring ex-offenders, it managed to win a $5.5 million grant to participate in a large-scale federal research project. That research project, involving seven grantees across the nation, may assist U.S. government agencies to better understand how to help those with serious barriers find employment.

Known as the Enhanced Transitional Jobs Demonstration and sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor, the project is funding and testing employment programs for ex-offenders and noncustodial parents.

Of the seven groups chosen, three – RecycleForce Inc., the Doe Fund Inc. of New York City and the Tarrant County Workforce Development Board of Fort Worth, Texas – are concentrating on ex-offenders, at least for this study.

The other four groups – the Center for Community Alternatives in Syracuse, N.Y., Goodwill of North Georgia in Atlanta, the City and County of San Francisco, and the YWCA of Greater Milwaukee received grants to work with non-custodial parents.

Although the groups may seem to be different, there are many overlaps, according to Cindy Redcross, senior research associate of MDRC, the social policy research organization hired to lead the project.

“About one-third or even up to one-half of the participants in the noncustodial program may have some type of criminal background,” she says. Regardless of the group, however, the study is conducted in the same way.

When the DOL announced the availability of grant money in the spring of last year, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis made her department’s goals clear.

“Helping Americans get back to work is a priority for the Department of Labor. Work is about dignity, about providing for one’s family and strengthening the U.S. economy,” she said. “This grant program makes possible work experience and support that will enable low-income non-custodial parents and ex-offenders to become independent and able to support families.”

Participating groups were chosen from more than 100 applicants through a process initiated by the Department of Labor, which selected the finalists. MDRC then sent an evaluation team to determine whether the groups could in fact implement what they had proposed to do in their grant applications. Each was also required to have established relationships with service partners, who would help them carry out the program.

The seven groups began enrolling people last November and will continue to do so for two years. Each will enroll 1,000 randomly selected individuals from its target population. In the case of ex-offenders, participants had to have been released from prison not more than 120 days prior to enrollment, are high risk and have never had a job for more than a year.

Five hundred of the 1,000 individuals enrolled by each group will be given transitional work assignments with support services. The other 500 will be part of a control group that receives the usual community services that ex-offenders and non-custodial parents would have access to.

MDRC will look at what happens to those who were employed and how they fared compared with those in the control groups. It will also track post-program outcomes.

The project is a major undertaking and one that hopefully will lead to improving the lives of ex-offenders and non-custodial parents.

“A lot of agencies will be looking closely at the findings from this study, and we hope it will influence policy and inform the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice on how to help people in these target populations be able to find employment,” MDRC’s Redcross says.

For more information about MDRC and its projects, visit the organization’s website at


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Posted in Research and Studies.

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