The Faith-Based Beneficiary Choice Program: A Path to Employment for Young Ex-Offenders

Prepared for
U.S. Department of Labor
faith based beneficiary programs


Each year more than 650,000 inmates are released from federal and state prisons and return to their communities and families. Without help, many return to criminal activity—the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that two-thirds will be charged with new crimes within three years of their release. This study evaluated the Beneficiary Choice Contracting Program, a demonstration to help young, recently released ex-offenders get employed and stay free of crime with the help of faith-based and community organizations providing individualized support. 

DOL awarded five grantees a total of $10 million through two rounds of grants. Grantees were required to establish performance-based contracts with faith-based and community service providers, which were in turn required to offer the same set of core services, as well as a unique combination of related services. A participant could choose the provider best suited to his or her unique needs.

Participants—recently released ex-offenders between the ages of 18 and 29—received an in-depth assessment, soft-skills training, career counseling, employment placement, and retention services. Mathematica conducted a comprehensive evaluation of program implementation and outcomes. Key findings include:

  • Performance-based contracts involved a learning curve at all organizations. Key staff were inexperienced at establishing benchmarks and validating provider performance, and very few service providers were familiar with performance-based contracts and experienced with documenting participant outcomes. 
  • Although grantees engaged a wide range of specialized service providers, sustaining their involvement was more challenging than expected. About one-third of the faith-based and community organizations dropped out of the demonstration over time due to low participation, poor job placement performance, and inability to meet requirements for reporting and documentation. 
  • Despite the inclusion of diverse service providers, participants’ choices appeared largely driven by agency location and reputation. 
  • All grantees reported that the program created opportunities for ex-offenders to receive workforce services that may otherwise have been unavailable. 
  • About 65 percent of participants were placed in jobs, although some programs were more successful than others. 
  • Criminal justice administrative data show that 34 percent of participants were rearrested for a new crime in the 12 months after program enrollment, which was lower than the national rate of 44 percent. 
  • Despite these successes, many service providers felt the program model did not fully capitalize on the unique set of services available at faith-based and community organizations and resulted in few participants receiving the full range of supplemental services needed for successful reentry and long-term avoidance of criminal involvement.

Data sources included two rounds of in-depth site visits, information collected on participant characteristics, service use, and short-term outcomes (including employment and self-reported recidivism data), state-level criminal justice administrative data, and grantee information on cost expenditures including performance-based payments made to service providers.