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Returning Citizen Impact

Project Summary


Unemployment is recognized as a leading mechanism of recidivism, and returning citizens struggle with navigating the job interview and discussing a prior conviction. Virtual Reality Job Interview Training (VR-JIT) is a computerized job interview simulator that was implemented in Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Vocational Villages. The Vocational Villages provides formal training in at least 13 trades for returning citizens prior to their release. The primary aims of the study were to assess the feasibility of implementing VR-JIT within the Vocational Villages and to evaluate the effectiveness of VR-JIT at enhancing employment outcomes for returning citizens within 6 months of release. The study is led by Dr. Matthew Smith, Associate Professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work in partnership with the State of Michigan Department of Corrections.




A randomized controlled trial was conducted to evaluate the feasibility and initial effectiveness of Virtual Reality Job Interview Training within two prisons. A total of 44 male returning citizens participated in this study. They completed mock job interviews and self-report measures on interview anxiety and self-confidence prior to and after the intervention period. Participants also completed a 6-month follow-up phone call asking about job interview completions and employment and probation status.





1) Returning citizens practicing with VR-JIT demonstrated an increase in performance-based Job Interview Skills, an increase in Job Training Motivation, and a decrease in self-reported Interviewing Anxiety between pre-test and post-test.



2) Returning citizens practicing with VR-JIT had greater employment by six-month follow-up.



3) 90% of the participants using VR-JIT self-reported it to be user friendly, helped prepare them to interview, fit their learning goals, and helped improve their job interview skills.






“The realistic training made me feel as though I was actually interviewing for a job.” 

Returning Citizen


“Learning what were right and wrong responses to say and when to ask questions.” 

Returning Citizen


“….there is a benefit to it. Prison staff mock interviews are professional (with employers) only, and the tool can offer different scenarios and situations like friendly, business serious, and inappropriate. It is beneficial to have returning citizens in the thought process of what is appropriate or not because our staff doesn’t do that. The tool also takes the burden off of staff for mock interviews because we only have so much time for them.” 

Prison Instructor





Results suggest that VR-JIT is highly acceptable and highly usable among returning citizens; they adhered to and performed well with the training. These results also suggest preliminary effectiveness of VR-JIT for prison-based services as trainees increased their job interview skills, reduced their job interview anxiety, and had greater odds of competitive employment within sex months of their community re-entry, compared to the returning citizens receiving services-as-usual.