This research brief reviews research on employment, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and case management models for justice-involved adults and young adults.

The U.S. Department of Labor has invested in reentry services by committing substantial funding toward programs serving justice-involved young adults and adults, under a funding umbrella currently known as the Reentry Employment Opportunities (REO) program. This funding targets young adults (ages 18 to 24) and adults (ages 25 and over) with previous involvement in the criminal justice system.

Programs funded under these grant streams serve justice-involved populations using one or more approaches for employment-focused services: registered apprenticeship, work-based learning, and career pathways. Although each of these grant programs offers different services, the overarching aim of the REO program is to improve employment outcomes and workforce readiness for the target population through employment services, case management, and other supportive services, including legal services.

This brief summarizes the evidence on program models for serving justice-involved adults and young adults through connection to employment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and case management services. The primary evidence of the effectiveness of these models comes from a review of experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluations. Information about factors that may contribute to the successful implementation of the models comes from a review of outcome evaluations and implementation studies. The brief closes with a summary of gaps in the knowledge base and an assessment of the potential contributions of the ongoing REO evaluation to narrowing these gaps.

Major Findings & Recommendations

Key findings from the research conducted on the impact of the Reentry Employment Opportunity (REO) program include the following:

  • Most prior studies of adult employment reentry programs do not consistently show effects due to variation in program models, implementation quality, and study designs.
  • Reentry programs specifically tailored to young adults often include job training or employment support, but evidence of employment impacts is limited.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy interventions reduce recidivism for justice-involved adults, but impacts on young adults and employment outcomes are unknown.
  • The ongoing REO evaluation (2017-2022) has the potential to provide evidence on strategies to reduce recidivism and increase employment for justice-involved individuals.

The authors provided the following recommendations to the Employment and Training Administration:

  • Growing evidence indicates that improving employment and earnings outcomes for disadvantaged young adults and adults—whether or not they are justice-involved—requires interventions that emphasize a longer-term connection to work through training and work experience in specific industries. Therefore, testing these approaches with justice-involved individuals is an important next step, particularly with vocational training.
  • The ongoing REO evaluation holds great promise to provide information on whether interventions tested with young adults more generally, or with justice-involved adults, are also effective specifically for young adults with justice involvement.