What works to reduce recidivism?

Dr. Robin LaBarbera
4 min readMay 2, 2022


(The second in a two-part series.)

In part one of this series, I outlined the concept of criminogenic factors — the factors most strongly correlated to criminal behavior and that are the best predictors of recidivism.

Those eight factors include antisocial cognition, personality, and peers/associates; family disfunction; substance abuse; school/work issues; and antisocial leisure/recreational activities.

In this second installment, I’d like to talk about an organization that is working behind bars to combat those criminogenic factors, and how they are achieving incredibly positive outcomes.

TUMI Prison Theological Training

I am currently engaged in a research project to evaluate the effectiveness of a prison theological training program called “TUMI” or The Urban Ministry Institute, a program of World Impact. World Impact’s passion is equipping men and women leaders who can transform their communities through Gospel-focused ministry, and that includes those who are currently serving time inside prison walls.

Preliminary findings from that research, based on two focus group interviews of 15 formerly incarcerated individuals (graduates of the TUMI prison training program), together with the administration of 31 surveys so far has convinced me that TUMI is doing “what works” to reduce recidivism.

My initial conclusion: The TUMI program is tackling those eight criminogenic factors and transforming the lives of those who participate.

What TUMI Participants Said

I asked participants to share how, in their opinion, participation in TUMI has made a difference in their lives — how it has changed the kind of person they are. And then I listened.

Later, as I transcribed the data and reviewed the audio recordings, and as I poured over the transcripts to identify the relevant themes, it became very clear to me that our conversations had focused on the criminogenic factors identified in the literature.

Beyond providing a seminary-level education and creating opportunities for meaningful employment, which TUMI does well, here’s what this group of graduates (formerly incarcerated men) said about how TUMI is breaking the cycle of crime, changing lives, and transforming communities:

  1. Education: TUMI provides a doctrinally sound seminary-level education to those who might otherwise be unable to access seminary training, and participants are prepared and equipped to pursue further higher education. “I’m in a graduate program pursuing a counseling degree,” said one participant.
  2. Employment: TUMI equips leaders for employment as pastors and church or ministry leaders, and it prepares them for other meaningful work. The majority of participants are leaders in their church and ministering to returning citizens, one is a licensed real estate agent, another has a small business making skateboards, and another is engaged in work to provide meals for those experiencing homelessness, for example.
  3. Prosocial Cognition: Participants have learned and demonstrated self-awareness, self-discipline, self-confidence, self-acceptance, self-management, and the development of healthy thinking patterns after participating in TUMI while incarcerated. “I realized I had creativity that I never knew about. I had skills, but I used them to harm myself and others and I made a lot of bad choices. Now I use my creativity for good. I have a skateboard company and I design graphics with a Gospel message,” one participant said.
  4. Prosocial Behavior: Participants described how they moved from their former lifestyle of robbing houses, selling drugs, wielding guns, and committing violent crimes against people and property, to pursuing higher education, gaining stable employment, providing meals to people who are unhoused, and actively engaging in serving those who are marginalized and underserved. “I went from robbing houses to selling houses,” said one participant who recently earned his real estate license.
  5. Prosocial Personality: Whereas participants formerly displayed patterns of impulsive, manipulative, and exploitive behaviors (“I only cared about getting whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, from whoever I wanted it from, by any means possible…I didn’t care about anyone but myself.”), they are now able to control their impulses and they are highly motivated to serve others. One participant described how he couldn’t event walk down the street without crying now, because he sees people in need and wants to help. Another talked about how he used to steal whatever he wanted from the convenience store. Then he described a recent scenario where he witnessed a man who appeared to be homeless steal some cookies from that store. The TUMI grad paid for the cookies, and then later chastised himself for not also getting the guy some milk to wash down the cookies. “I shoulda done more for that man.”
  6. Prosocial Relationships: Before TUMI, participants recounted poor quality family relationships or association with peers who were also involved in criminal activity. A big component of the TUMI program, which goes beyond the typical “correspondence courses” that are highly available in prison, is the relationships that are formed during class interactions and beyond. “It’s the community, the relationships, the camaraderie. These guys right here in this room (referring to the TUMI graduates around the table), this is my family, and I love them very much!” Another said, “It’s a beautiful thing, this friendship, this bond we have with one another.” Another said, “I was the mischievous kid, running around and turning everyone and everything over. Now, my family comes to me for support, prayer, leadership…I’m like the pastor of the family.” They know that strong, prosocial relationships are associated with a decline in criminal behavior, and they are changing their communities.

“What has changed about you as a person?” participants in the focus groups were asked. An overwhelming 100% said, “Everything!”

Ready to learn about how program evaluation can maximize your organization’s community impact? From data collection, to analysis, to communicating findings to a wide audience, we develop insights that drive informed decisions. Get started by emailing robin@labarberalearning.com.

Originally published at https://www.labarberalearning.com on May 2, 2022.



Dr. Robin LaBarbera

Program evaluation professional helping leaders develop data-driven strategies and plans to maximize community impact. Email me at robin@labarberalearning.com