New York State Transition Program Builds a New Future for Inmates in County Jails

It is important to stem the tide of individuals clogging our corrections system by helping non-violent offenders reclaim their lives. Among the programs that work to break the cycle of crime and reduce repeat offenses is the successful New York State Transition Program, which is offered in county jails. The program has demonstrated the following achievements.

For Participants:

For New York State:

What Is the Transition Program?

Since 1988, the New York State Education Department has administered this incarcerated education program for youth to increase the economic self-sufficiency of released individuals and decrease the likelihood of their repeat criminal behavior and recidivism. The model includes both academic and transition components (see Figure 1). The academic components focus on the basic education instruction that students are guaranteed by law (e.g., ABE/GED, ESOL, tutoring), while the transition components focus on skills and linkages that will enable inmates to successfully lead a productive life in the community. Transition services include computerized career assessment, job-readiness skills, decision-making skills, and community support services to enable inmates to identify community agencies to provide them with needed information and/or assistance once they are back in the community. A key and unique feature of the transition model is that inmates are provided with continued support and linkages with a variety of community agencies for at least six months after their release. This follow-up support is critical if individuals are to break the cycle of crime.

Figure 1. Instructional Delivery System Model
Correctional Facility ----------------------------- Community
Academic Components Transition Components Support Services
  • Basic skills
  • High school equivalency
  • ESOL
  • Tutorial in high school subjects
  • Career, family, and life management
  • Family literacy
  • Vocational education
  • Apprenticeship-related training
  • Computerized career assessment
  • Job readiness skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Community support
  • Parenting
  • Employment
  • Continuing education
  • Higher education
  • Social, health, and other services
  • Family connections
  • Drop-in centers

To determine the effectiveness of this program, the State Education Department commissioned MAGI Educational Services, Inc. to conduct an in-depth evaluation focusing on student impact. The study began in five sites operating the project in November 1994, and students were tracked through November 1995. Although the evaluation is still in its initial phase, major findings are presented in this research brief.

"It [the Transition Program] helped me get on the right track, this way I'm not walking out the same way I walked in. It's going to prevent me from coming back. I feel confident about myself."

What Were the Findings?

A High Percentage Passed the GED Exam

Attainment of a GED or high school diploma is an important stepping stone if an individual is to explore a variety of career options. Of the 45 program participants who took the GED exam during their stay in jail, 73% passed (see Figure 2). This is significantly higher than the 62% of all New York State prisoners who took the GED and passed it.

"Being in the program has given me an opportunity to think and plan a positive, constructive future for myself. It's a powerful and helpful program, especially if an individual wants to turn his or her life around."

Participants' Career Direction is Heightened

It is well-known that a life of crime often results from an individual's lack of purpose and career goals. Participants in the Transition Program left it feeling much more confident about their career direction than when they entered it.1 To put these gains in context, their average pretest scores were lower than normative scores for high school students, while their average post-test scores were closer to the vocational identity scores of college students.

"It taught me a great deal about how to perform out in the world and how to prepare for a job and how to find one."

Participants' Self-Esteem Improved Dramatically

Self-esteem is critical to an individual's eventual success "on the outside." Typically it is difficult to affect adults' self-esteem in any setting, let alone in jail. The significant increase in self-esteem2 among participants was thus quite notable. Participants out performed only 30% of the normative sample on the post-test (see Figure 3). This is particularly significant because no change in self-esteem scores would be expected from pre- to post-test.

"The Transition Program gave me the incentive and encouragement I need to begin turning my life around. I now feel ready to get the education I need to further my career in health care."

Participants' Successful Community Transition

Participants' increased skills and self-knowledge acquired while in jail can translate into altered life circumstance upon their release. Six months after leaving jail, participants were engaged in a variety of educational and employment experiences. Follow-up data available for six months after their release3 indicates:

While there is little comparison information available regarding post-release life of the formerly incarcerated, a recidivism study among federal prison releases5   provides a general point of reference. Forty-six percent (46%) of releases arranged post-release employment, whereas 58%, a much higher percentage, of Transition Program participants obtained employment post-release.

"It gave me a chance to see my true potential in the work place."

Fewer Participants Return to Jail

The bottom line in a study of this kind is to determine whether or not the program is successful at keeping participants from committing new offenses and returning to jail. Of the 97 individuals who were tracked after they completed the Transition Program, 85% (82 participants) remained in the community. Only 15% (15 participants) were rearrested during the six months following their participation, 6% lower than the State's recidivism rate of 21% at six months.6   While the formal evaluation of the Transition Program only has recorded recidivism data for six months post-release at this time, individual sites operating Transition Programs throughout the state have kept their own informal records and have shown even better long-term recidivism rates among participants. The formal evaluation will continue to collect tracking data and examine trends over time.

Ray's7 Story

The program's effect on individuals illustrates how it changes lives. Ray, a former participant in the Transition Program, exemplifies the program in action. His story is told by his transition counselor.

At the beginning of the Transition Program, he was quiet, with questionable motivation. He had poor job-seeking skills and a negative attitude. Ray showed a change in attitude when we started to practice our videotaped interviews. He started to encourage others in the group that they could do well in interview situations. By the end of the program he was more confident that he could get a job. He broke up a fight in the dorm by showing someone the consequences of his behavior.

After Ray's release, he got a job with the local Parks and Recreation organization. He has good work habits and is very proud of his success. He works hard, attends AA and NA meetings, and is a coach and helper for midnight basketball.

"I learned that if I push myself I can do anything and become very successful in life."

Saving Millions of New York State Dollars

The Transition Program improves the overall quality of life in New York State by reducing the number of repeat offenders and saving millions of dollars over time.

As indicated above, the Transition Program reduced initial recidivism by 30%. The savings from the 27 facilities in which the program currently operates, as well as the projected savings if the project were expanded to the 35 facilities that do not currently have problems (36 facilities including New York City), are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Illustrated Savings
2,350 total number of individuals who would be served by the program per year (1,500 currently served plus 850 if expanded state-wide)
148 number not returning to jail in the six months after their release due to the Transition Program (30% fewer than the state rate--since 30% fewer return to jail)
$888,000 amount saved in six months (148 x $6,000--average costs of incarceration for a 60-day stay at $100 a day8) per group of releasees.
$2,664,000 cumulative amount saved in one year (3 x $888,000--one full year of savings for the first six-month cohort and six-months of savings for the second six-month cohort)
$38,184,000 projected cumulative savings for five years of participants at the current rate of recidivism, without adjusting for inflation of the rising crime rate (6,364 fewer incarcerations at $6,000 per incarceration)

Further Savings

This savings analysis only looks at the money saved due to reduced recidivism. Although incomplete comparative information prevents the calculation of a specific savings amount, further savings are illustrated in the chart below:

Savings of Result in Less Spending at rates of Due to Transition Program Impact
Reduced Dependence on Public Assistance $7,500 per person on welfare in New York State per year 58% of participants employed
Reduced Long-term Dependence on Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Programs $58 per person per day for outpatient treatment ($14,790 per person, per year)
$54,000 per person per year for inpatient programs
14% of participants were in or had completed drug or alcohol treatment programs, thus reducing their long-term need for continued treatment
Increased Participation in the Federal Job Corps Program $25,000 to $59,000 per bed of incarceration A memo of understanding has been signed with Region 2 of the federal Job Corps program.*

* to transition youth directly from incarceration to residential placement in the Job Corps, which provides academic, vocational, and social skills in a structured environment. This program will impact greatly on participants' recidivism, unemployment, and substance abuse. The program is entirely federally funded.

Participants Feel that the Program Changed Their Lives

Participants' opinions about the Transition Program, obtained through anonymous surveys, revealed the profound impact that the program had on individuals' lives. In addition, 100% of students surveyed at the end of the program were glad they participated. Two-thirds or more of participants indicated that the program helped them a lot in the following areas:

For more information contact

Konrad Raup
Alternative Education and Family Literacy Team
New York State Education Department
Education Building, Room 307
Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234