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MANAGEMENT UPDATE.

IGNITE: A MODEL APPROACH TO JAIL RECIDIVISM

Writers about state and local government (including us) occasionally get carried away when there’s the appearance of a glittering nugget of managerial gold and are moved to tell the world about it. Sadly, sometimes, when evidence of results comes pouring in, it turns out the gold was more like pyrite (known to old-west prospectors as “Fools Gold.”)


This has not been the case with the development of an intense jail education program, which started in Flint, Michigan in 2020 and could be a model education program for the nation’s jails. The program for inmates about which we wrote in a column in Route Fifty, includes “two hours of classes a day, five days a week, (and involves a curricula that) offers a variety of courses and seminars taught in-person and online, with solid support coming from businesses and community residents.”


While we were researching the Route Fifty column, we talked with Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson; watched an IGNITE graduation ceremony; interviewed Flint correctional officers and spoke with several other sheriffs who had seen the impact of the program, liked the results, and had started their own IGNITE efforts. In addition, we talked with the National Sheriffs Association, which had begun to promote this intense educational effort to its membership.


IGNITE looked very promising to us, and we heard that an academic study was coming up with data that fully supported the positive comments we were hearing. But at the time, we were unable to use any of the data because it was still preliminary.


Now the evidence is in, in the form of a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled  “Something Works in US Jails: Misconduct and Recidivism Effects of the IGNITE Program,” written by professors at Harvard, Brown, University of Michigan, and Harvard Law School. It’s conclusion:  “Exposure to the Genese County Jail IGNITE program dramatically and persistently reduces both within jail misconduct and post-release recidivism.” 



According to the working paper, researchers found that:


“Exposure to IGNITE dramatically reduces an individual’s propensity for both within-jail misconduct and post-release recidivism. One additional month of exposure to IGNITE is estimated to reduce the number of weekly major misconduct incidents by 0.16 (49%) and to reduce three-month recidivism by 8 percentage points (18%)”


Qualitative analysis through surveys also showed widespread culture and attitude change for participants, relatives and staff. For example, “individuals who had personally been exposed to IGNITE or have relatives who were exposed are 23 percentage points (70%) more likely to view law enforcement favorably.”


The working paper is technical, providing in-depth descriptions of methodology and the evaluation methods used to draw its conclusions. It also includes references in several spots to quotes taken from our own column. One we especially liked came from a correctional officer who noted that he held the door for inmates who were part of the IGNITE graduation ceremony and shook their hands. “It really humanizes people. It humanizes the inmate population, and it humanizes the deputy population,” he said.

 

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