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Managing an on-the-spot lottery in reentry services

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Describe the authors’ experiences in designing and conducting a randomized field experiment of a community-based, reentry program for ex-offenders.


Two surveys: one with reentry clients not involved in our outcome evaluation, and a follow-up survey of participants who underwent randomization in order to participate in the outcome study. Qualitative input from program staff and clients were also recorded, supplemented with observations of the authors.


Having a research staff member located at the program site proved to be a key advantage for monitoring frustrations voiced by program staff and prospective clients, thereby allowing for the modification of the selection procedures over time to minimize resistance. Ultimately, the simplest approach proved to be the most acceptable. The importance of certain procedural justice themes were suggested by the survey results and the observed acceptability of our on-the-spot lottery approach to randomization.


The survey results (and our onsite experiences) provided unequivocal evidence that randomization was unpopular, but that resistance can be partially mitigated by adhering to basic principles of procedural justice.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    It should be noted that the Second Chance program in San Diego is not associated with the federal Second Chance legislation to support offender rehabilitation and reentry.

  2. 2.

    A few program staff members attributed this to the programs’ recently adopted requirement to check identification for legal status and work eligibility in the U.S., thus driving away those who either lacked proper identification or were not legal residents.

  3. 3.

    To fulfill certain state and county contracts, the program was required to admit and serve applicants referred to them who met specific criteria, such as welfare recipients who were also homeless.

  4. 4.

    Although, like the present study, the control conditions in this review tended to include referrals to other community resources.

  5. 5.

    The problem of “switchovers”, and, more broadly, provider reluctance, is not new. Boruch et al. (2000) provide a thoughtful overview of methodological compromises between experimenters and service providers, and the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

  6. 6.

    This question was not routinely asked of the subjects, but was included in one of the monthly tracking-and-locating calls for purposes of the present study.

  7. 7.

    Our follow-up experiences confirmed this finding. Of the nine who refused to participate in the follow-up interviews, eight were from the control group.


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This study was funded by the Smith Richardson Foundation (Grant No: 2008: 7752).

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Correspondence to David Farabee.

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Farabee, D., Zhang, S.X. & Wright, B. Managing an on-the-spot lottery in reentry services. J Exp Criminol 8, 241–253 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-012-9151-2

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  • Experiment
  • Ex-Offender
  • Randomization
  • Reentry