Sadé Lindsay, assistant professor of public policy and sociology, Cornell
University, will present "Signals from the Carceral Tower: Race, Prison Education Programs, and Stigma in the Labor Market" as part of the CPR Seminar Series.
This study examines the effectiveness of prison education programs (PEPs) in addressing labor market challenges for returning citizens, who often face discrimination due to criminal record stigma. PEPs are seen as a potential solution to reduce stigmatization by enabling returning citizens to signal higher productivity and lower reoffending risk to employers. Yet, the impact of PEP credentials on job opportunities remains unclear. Drawing on an audit study of 1502 employers in a skilled trade labor market, I manipulated the presence of credentials, prison records, and applicants' race to test hypotheses about the efficacy of PEPs on employer callback rates. Random-effect models indicated that (1) PEP credentials increased applicants' callback chances relative to returning citizens without them, and (2) despite lower overall callback rates for Black men, employers did not evaluate PEP credentials differently by race. This study advances research on labor market inequalities among returning citizens, particularly in skilled trade labor markets, and provides empirical evidence supporting the signaling function of PEP credentials. However, PEPs do not drastically eliminate the mark of a criminal record. Thus, I conclude by offering integrative approaches to enhancing PEP effectiveness and reducing the cumulative effects of racism and criminal record stigma.