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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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Vocational education in prison

Adult Criminal Justice
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2019.  Literature review updated July 2016.
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Vocational education programs delivered in prison involve instruction for a specific trade, occupation, or vocation such as welding, auto repair, building maintenance, or graphic arts. These programs typically last from six months to three years. The primary goal of vocational education is to help offenders develop skills that will be marketable for obtaining a job upon release to the community. Some vocational programs offer certificates or college credits.
The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2018). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers $5,138 Benefits minus costs $16,988
Participants $0 Benefit to cost ratio $11.94
Others $11,611 Chance the program will produce
Indirect $1,792 benefits greater than the costs 98 %
Total benefits $18,541
Net program cost ($1,553)
Benefits minus cost $16,988
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Benefits from changes to:1 Benefits to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Crime $5,138 $0 $11,611 $2,569 $19,318
Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 ($777) ($777)
Totals $5,138 $0 $11,611 $1,792 $18,541
Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $1,495 2016 Present value of net program costs (in 2018 dollars) ($1,553)
Comparison costs $0 2016 Cost range (+ or -) 10 %
Per -participant cost estimate provided by the Washington State Department of Corrections.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
Crime 25 3 1950 -0.167 0.075 27 -0.167 0.075 37 -0.256 0.001

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Callan, V., & Gardner, J. (2005). Vocational education and training provision and recidivism in Queensland correctional institutions. Queensland, Australia: National Center for Vocational Education Research.

Lattimore, P.K., Witte, A.D., & Baker, J.R. (1990). Experimental assessment of the effect of vocational training on youthful property offenders. Evaluation Review, 14(2), 115-133.

Saylor, W.G., Gaes, G.G. (1996). PREP: Training inmates through industrial work participation, and vocational and apprenticeship instruction. Washington, DC: United States Federal Bureau of Prisons.