Reentry Essentials: An Overview of Employment and Correctional Education

March 29, 2018


This is the first in a series of posts on aspects of successful reentry. Each post will include curated resources related to the featured reentry topic.

Employment Can Improve Reentry Outcomes

Employment is widely seen by reentry service providers, researchers, policymakers, and people who were previously incarcerated as crucial to a person’s successful reintegration into the community and decreasing their risk of recidivism. Yet the stigma of incarceration and having been out of the workforce for a period of time often contribute to the challenges people face when trying to find a job after release from prison or jail. People who have been incarcerated earn 40 percent less annually than they had earned prior to incarceration and are likely to have less upward economic mobility over time than those who have not been incarcerated, according to a 2010 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Educational Attainment Is a Challenge

Contributing to the challenges involved in reentry is the fact that individuals who are in the criminal justice system often have had limited educational opportunities or attainment; a Bureau of Justice Statistics study found that the majority of individuals incarcerated in state prisons lack a high school diploma or its equivalent. Because education is strongly tied to a person’s employment opportunities, providing educational and vocational programs to adults and youth during and after incarceration is critical. A study by the RAND Corporation—which was funded through a Second Chance Act (SCA) grant—found that, on average, people who participated in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to recidivate upon release and 13 percent more likely to secure employment than those who had not participated.

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Communities Drive Innovation

Communities are taking action in a variety of ways to improve employment outcomes for people who are in the criminal justice system. SCA and other federal initiatives have funded programs combining job-readiness and skills training and support with services to address criminogenic needs and reduce a person’s likelihood of reoffending. Additionally, the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC)—which was established by SCA in 2008 —developed the Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies Pilot Project to test innovative strategies to reduce recidivism and increase job readiness for people reentering their communities after incarceration through cross-systems coordination among corrections, workforce development agencies, and community-based service providers. The project is currently underway in two sites: Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and Palm Beach County, Florida.

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Business Leaders Can Be Allies

Business leaders have also emerged as important stakeholders in reentry outside of the justice system, as they are crucial to ensuring that all qualified job seekers get a chance at employment, regardless of their past. A recent roundtable meeting held at the White House brought together Governors John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Matt Bevin (R-KY) who led a discussion with executives from large and small businesses on the challenges and benefits of hiring people who have criminal records at a time when workers are in high demand and the labor pool is shrinking. Since 2014, the NRRC has assisted more than 50 jurisdictions with hosting local business engagement events in which community-based organizations, policymakers, and business leaders discuss the challenges and advantages related to hiring people who have criminal records. Through a partnership with the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives, the NRRC also provides guidance to local chambers of commerce on promoting fair-chance hiring practices.

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Policies and Barriers Vary across States

Alongside these initiatives is a broader effort among policymakers to examine the impact of a criminal record on a person’s employment prospects and other opportunities that could help them succeed in the community. The NRRC’s briefs on criminal records educate policymakers on barriers related to hiring and occupational licensing, including policy changes that states have sought to reduce barriers. For people who have criminal records, policymakers, and service providers interested in adult and juvenile criminal record clearance, the Clean Slate Clearinghouse is a resource funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Justice that provides up-to-date information on states’ record clearance policies and best practices in developing those policies.

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