Mentoring in Law Enforcement and Corrections

Quality research is the foundation for best practices and best practices are how we can save time, resources, and energy as we implement and improve our mentoring work. That makes understanding the following research your foundation for improving your mentoring and mentor program, whether for law enforcement officers, delinquents, at-risk youth, or adult offenders.





Shlafer, R.J., Poehlmann, J., Coffino, B. & Hanneman, A. (2009). Mentoring Children With Incarcerated Parents: Implications for Research, Practice, and Policy. In Family Relations: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, Volume 58 Issue 5, Pages 507 – 519. Published Online: 8 Dec 2009 by the National Council on Family Relations.

The Study

This research study investigated children and families who were participating in a mentoring program that was specifically targeting children with parents in prison or jail.

The study used several methods and data sources to examine the program. Specifically they studied:

  • development of the mentoring relationships of 57 mentor-child pairs;
  • the challenges and benefits of mentoring children with incarcerated parents;
  • what occurred during mentor-protege relationship termination.

The Findings

1. Over 33 % of the mentor-child matches ended during the first 6 months of program participation. These relationships produced few enduring benefits that could be assessed.

2. The matches that continued longer than 6 months showed increased benefits over those that lasted less than 6 months.

3. Children who met with mentors more frequently exhibited fewer negative symptoms such as emotional upset, fighting, and poor peer and adult relationships.

4. The mentoring and the study of it did not last long enough for academic and other more enduring outcomes to be found.


1. Mentoring of children with incarcerated parents is worth the investment, effort, and work of addressing the challenges.

2. Enduring mentoring of children with incarcerated parents produces significant emotional, self-esteem, and relational benefits which have the potential of helping children develop more positive and productive outcomes and lives.

3. The longer the mentoring relationship can last and deepen, the greater will be the benefits to the child, to families and friends, and eventually to society.

Jolliffe, D. and Farrington, D.P. (2007). A Rapid Evidence Assessment of the Impact of Mentoring on Re-Offending.  The United Kingdom Home Office.

The Study

The study was a meta-analysis in that it examined 18 research studies where individuals were either “at-risk” of offending or had been apprehended by the police and then sought to summarize the best evidence on the effects of mentoring on re-offending in the youth who were in the participant programs under study.

This broad examination and analysis sought to discover and recommend those practices found to have a significant positive effect on at-risk and offender youth.

The Findings

  1. Eighteen studies were analyzed. Of these 18, seven showed that mentoring had a statistically significant positive impact on re-offending.
  2. In general, the results suggested that mentoring significantly reduced subsequent offending by 4 to 11 per cent, but this result was primarily driven by studies of lower methodological quality. (Ed. which do not control for the range of other possible causes of any change. Therefore, these lower quality studies do not allow a cause – effect relationship from mentoring to the results to be clearly assumed.)
  3. The quality best studies, designed to provide the most accurate assessment of the impact of mentoring, found no statistically significant reduction in re-offending due to the mentoring.
  4. Some mentoring program were more effective than others. Those more successful in reducing re-offending were where the mentor and mentee spent more time together at each meeting and met at least once a week.
  5. Mentoring was only successful in reducing re-offending when it was one of a number of interventions, suggesting that mentoring on its own may not reduce re-offending much.   Where behaviour modification, supplementary education and employment programmes were also involved, significant reductions in re-offending occurred.
  6. Longer mentoring program were not found to be any more effective than the others, which seems counter-intuitive and confusing. No explanation makes sense for this. (Ed. Perhaps, if mentors lacked training and support, mentors were doing the same things all along in the relationships, and what worked earlier did not continue to be effective. The alternative and better practice is for mentors to have a strategy for assessing mentee developmental needs and guidance in adjusting their mentoring as the needs of the maturing mentee change.)


Clearly, some mentoring and mentor-mentee relationships are of a higher quality than others.

2. Even high quality mentoring and mentoring relationships can have limited effects if these are with out:

  • Program-provided preparation, such as orientation or training;
  • Ongoing program-provided supervision and support for:
    • The effectiveness of the mentor-mentee match;
    • The resolution of problems that emerge;
    • The adequacy of mentoring time invested in working with and supporting the mentee.
  • Peer support among mentors

3. The analysis found that the success of mentoring in this context, as measured by the ability to reduce offending, was dependent on:

  • the duration of each mentor/mentee meeting
  • the frequency of the meetings
  • whether or not mentoring was done as a coordinated effort with other support initiatives such as:
    • behavior modification;
    • supplementary education;
    • employment programs;
    • counseling for emotional issues.

To state the point more directly, it is the researchers’ conclusion from this research that the mentor-mentee meeting length must be at least two hours, the meetings should ideally be once a week, and the mentoring should be coordinated with other developmental and supportive programs the mentee experiences for mentoring in this context to lead to significant positive effects in the offender’s life.


Fletcher, R.C., Sherk, J. and Jucovy, L. (2009). Mentoring Former Prisoners: A Guide for Reentry Programs. Published by Public/Private Ventures. Philadelphia, PA, publication # 316.

The Problem

Almost 650,000 adults are released from prisons in the U.S. every year. They return to their communities needing housing and jobs, but their prospects are generally bleak.

  • Most have not completed high school;
  • Almost 75% have a history of substance abuse;
  • More than one third have a physical or mental disability;
  • They return to some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods;
  • They often lack stable social bonds;
  • There are few support services to help them restart their lives.

No wonder exconvict recidivism rates are high. As many as 52 percent of former state prisoners are back behind bars within three years after their release.

This cycle of recidivism has many negative consequences. Fragile families and communities are overwhelmed and the lives of these exconvicts are wasted, all at enormous cost to taxpayers and our society. The US spends more than $60 billion a year on prisons and jails. Without the development of effective approaches for reducing recidivism, the problem is certain to grow.

The Ready4Work Program

These economic and social considerations led Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) and the US Department of Labor (DOL) to develop Ready4Work: An Ex-Prisoner, Community and Faith Initiative in 2003. Funded by DOL and the Annie E. Casey and Ford Foundations, Ready4Work was designed to address the needs of the growing ex-prisoner population and to test the capacity of community and faith-based organizations to meet those needs. Ready4Work Services include:

  • employment readiness training;
  • job placement;
  • intensive case management;
  • referrals for housing, health care, drug treatment and other support programs;
  • Ready4Work also involved a unique mentoring component.

The Ready4Work Mentoring component includes one-to-one and group mentoring—based on the belief that mentors could help ease ex-prisoners’ reentry into society by providing both emotional and practical support.

Program Sites

The program operated in 11 cities around the U.S.

  • The lead agencies at six of the sites were faith-based organizations;
  • At three other sites, they were secular nonprofits.
  • Operations in the remaining two cities were headed up by a mayor’s office and a for-profit entity.

After the formal three-year demonstration period ended (in Fall 2006), most of the participating programs continued operations, using the Ready4Work model.

The Program Population

Ready4Work targeted 18- to 34-year-olds whose most recent incarceration has been for a nonviolent, nonsexual felony offense. They had to be enrolled within 90 days of their release from prison. All participants entered the program voluntarily.

Together, the sites enrolled approximately 4,500 formerly incarcerated individuals—predominantly African American males, with an average age of 26. Half of all participants had extensive criminal histories at the time of their enrollment, with a record of five or more arrests. A majority had spent more than two years in prison, and almost 25 percent had spent five or more years behind bars. Once individuals entered the program, they were eligible for up to a year of services. The cost per participant/per year of service was approximately $4,500, a tiny fraction of the cost of prison.

The Literature Review – A Summary

For more than 10 years, we have had research which has demonstrated that carefully structured, well-run mentoring programs can positively affect social, behavioral and academic outcomes for at-risk young people.

The Findings

1. The evaluation of Ready4Work suggest that mentoring may have real benefits in increasing outcomes.

2. Across the 11 sites, about half of the participants became involved in mentoring.

3. Mentoring participants were more successful in program retention and employment, than those who were not mentored. Specifically:

  • Mentoring participants remained in the Ready4Work program longer.
    • Ready4Work participants who met with their mentor spent an average of 9.7 months in the program.
    • Program participants who never met with a mentor were in the program for an average of 6.6 months.
  • They were more likely to find a job while in the program.
    • 56 percent of Ready4Work participants were successful in finding jobs.
    • Participants who met with a mentor were more than twice as likely to find jobs as participants who never met with a mentor.
  • They were more successful in retaining jobs.
    • Among participants who found a job and were active in the program for at least three months, 65 percent met the retention benchmark.
    • Those who met with a mentor were significantly more likely to meet the benchmark than those who did not.
  • They were less likely to return to prison.
    • At the one-year post-release mark, participants who were mentored, regardless of whether they ever became employed, were 35 percent less likely to return to prison than those who were not mentored.

IMPORTANT FOR READERS – These results are based on comparing participants who chose to meet with a mentor against those who did not meet with a mentor. Participants, however, were not randomly assigned to meet with a mentor—it was a voluntary component of the program. It is possible that whatever motivated them to take advantage of mentoring may also have motivated them to remain active in the program longer and to try harder to find and retain a job.

It is also possible that variance in program quality and structure were sometimes factors in whether or not participants engaged in the mentoring component.