Sociology ETDs

Publication Date



This qualitative study explored offenders work experiences outside of prison and in-prison, and then compared these experiences to their post-release work experiences and outcomes. The subjects' criminal histories varied, but during the study's initial interview all were incarcerated at lower security level facilities in a western state. Several different types of in-prison employment were compared; these differences included the type of task, the skill level, the work-site, and the beneficiary of the labor. Outcomes were classified according to work measures, and whether the subjects had been reincarcerated within six months of their release. The pre-prison findings suggested that the skill level of the work which the subjects' held affected their commitment to their jobs. However, the data also showed that substance abuse derailed the subjects, regardless of their commitment to their jobs. The in-prison findings revealed important differences between work programs, showed that the quality of the job is affected by intrinsic rewards, and that different types of intrinsic rewards foster different perspectives. In one of the work programs the subjects worked with state forestry employees, performing land clearing, work on structures, prescribed burns, and wild-land firefighting. This program produced character-changing results, including increases in self-esteem, recognition of personal agency, increased sense of responsibility, and pride in their work. The subjects who participated in the forestry work program also were the least likely to have been reincarcerated within six months of their release. The subjects reported that they encountered many obstacles upon their release from prison; some of the obstacles were directly due to their ex-prisoner status, such as stigma and parole restrictions. However, subjects who had strengths, such as overcoming substance abuse, positive social connections, and positive attitudes, appeared to have overcome the obstacles. These strengthening factors closely resembled the perspectives which the forestry subjects had adopted. These findings suggest that certain types of in-prison work can be rehabilitative, and that prison can be an effective arena in which to implement character-changing work-based programs.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Committee Member (Chair)

Coughlin, Richard M.

Second Committee Member

Lyons, Christopher J.

Third Committee Member

Steele, Paul D.


Male prisoners--Attitudes, Ex-convicts--Attitudes, Work release of prisoners--Psychological aspects, Work release of prisoners--Social aspects, Self-esteem in men--Psychological aspects, Self-esteem in men--Social aspects



Document Type