Job Fairs in America's State Prisons: Summary of Findings on Research

Article excerpt

Abstract

Job Fairs have taken on an increasingly important role in correctional education and transition programming. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has been instrumental in promoting mock job fairs in all federal prison facilities. The focus of this research project was to understand how widespread the use of job fairs is in state prisons and correctional institutions. The author surveyed all 50 state correctional vocational education administrators and received a response of 52% (26 of 50 states responding). Overwhelmingly, the author found that job fairs are viewed as an important tool to prepare releasing offenders for return to the community.

The author of this project was requested by many of the state participants to publish the research results to obtain a better understanding of job fairs -- their impact, use, and acceptance in state correctional agencies. The author would like to extend her appreciation to the 26 states that participated in this study.

Research Project Design

To ascertain the utilization and effectiveness of job fairs in America's state prisons, the author conducted a survey in September 2002 of correctional and vocational education administrators in all 50 states. The survey was prepared as a graduate research project for the Northern Arizona University, Master's in Education, Career and Technical Education program under the supervision of Carol Norris, Ph.D. The Mock Job Fair Handbook created by the Inmate Placement Branch of the Federal Bureau of Prisons was utilized as a model for the questionnaire design. The questionnaire was developed with 14 questions with closed ended responses to provide for an accurate quantitative analysis. Respondents were given one open ended final question to express pitfalls to avoid when planning prison job fairs. A statistical analysis was used to compile the results and open-ended responses were categorized.

Background on Job Fairs in America's Prisons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has been a leader in research and is one of the most significant contributors to the development of job fairs in the prison environment. By publication of the Mock Job Fair Handbook (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2000) BOP has led the rest of the nation in a cohesive, well organized effort to provide viable job fair program guidelines for federal, state and county correctional facilities. Sylvia McCollum, the Inmate Placement Administrator for the BOP has been a leader in this field. In an article in Federal Probation (June 2000), McCollum outlines the history of the creation of the Inmate Placement Program and the advent of Mock Job Fairs held throughout the federal prison system. In the three years that the article discusses, the Mock Job Fair program in federal prisons has had a profound positive effect on inmates and staff. As McCollum states in her writings in Federal Probation (2000), it is vital for correctional professionals to quantify the results of new programs, such as Mock Job Fairs. Since the ultimate cost benefit analysis resides in a marked reduction in recidivism rates, it is vital for such programs to be well tracked. McCollum has collaborated with Chief Probation Officers throughout the United States. BOP is sponsoring a three-year study tracking former inmates and their employment success and failures. Probation officers were surveyed in both June 2001 and May 2002 (McCollum, 2002). The probation officers are delegated the responsibility of tracking the inmate participants from these events. The report provides 393 responses to the survey and then provides follow-up questions and a detailed list of former inmates and their employment history since release. The staff at BOP realizes that their efforts to improve and enhance pre and post release programs for inmates will be dependent upon such follow up studies. As McCollum stated in Federal Probation, "However, the question that is always asked about prison programs, including inmate employment enhancement programs, is whether they reduce recidivism. …