Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies: Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Job Readiness
The Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies white paper was written to address the challenges that service providers cannot successfully serve every adult on probation or leaving prison or jail who needs a job. There are simply not enough resources and attempting to serve everyone would be largely ineffective. Also, some individuals require intensive services and programming, while others perform better with lighter interventions and supervision.
The white paper can help policymakers, system administrators, and practitioners collaboratively determine whether resources are focused on the right people, with the right interventions, at the right time.
To browse or download an online version of the white paper or project overview, click on the covers below.
Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies
Explore the Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies White Paper
Introduction to the White Paper
The importance of employment in the reentry process
With mounting research, it is clear there are significant benefits for our communities in helping men and women that have been in prison, jail, or on probation or parole find employment:
- Having a job enables individuals to contribute income to their families, which can generate more personal support, stronger positive relationships, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental health
- They are more likely to develop prosocial relationships when their time is structured with work and they are able to help care and provide for their families
- Linking individuals with criminal histories to jobs and helping them succeed can reduce the staggering costs to taxpayers for reincarceration and increases contributions to the tax base for community services
- If releasees and supervisees are working, their time is being spent in constructive ways and they are then less likely to engage in crime and disorder in their neighborhoods
It is important to note that although employment clearly plays an important role in reentry, research does not support the proposition that simply placing an individual in a job is a silver bullet for reducing criminal behaviors. What various studies do suggest is that to reduce criminal behaviors and recidivism, corrections professionals and employment service providers must address individuals’ antisocial attitudes and beliefs associated with crime, many of which also impact an individual’s ability to succeed in the workplace.
The value of integrating the workforce development, corrections, and reentry systems
Employment is a point at which the goals of the criminal justice, workforce development, family services, health and human services, and social services systems can converge. With budget cuts to all these systems, resources must be focused on the right individuals (i.e., people who would benefit the most from interventions), using the right strategies that are delivered at the right time. Improved outcomes for individuals returning to their communities, for their families, and for each system’s investments can be realized by better coordinating the correctional supervision, treatment, supports, and other services being delivered at that point of convergence to individuals who have been incarcerated or are on probation or parole.
There is significant overlap between the factors that make someone more at risk to reoffend and those that impact employability. Antisocial attitudes, beliefs, peers, and personality patterns, which research supports are the strongest predictors of recidivism, clearly affect how someone might perform in the workplace. Individuals with these characteristics tend to have more negative attitudes about working, less stable employment histories, and an unwillingness to take low-paying jobs. As such, workforce development agencies and employment service providers interested in improving outcomes for individuals with criminal histories should draw from criminal justice best practices and collaborate with corrections professionals to develop integrated responses.
Section I: What Works to Reduce Recidivism
This section of the white paper discusses three key principles that research has shown will lead to recidivism reduction when effectively applied to corrections interventions, and how they apply to employment services and program delivery for individuals with criminal histories.
How to reduce recidivismDecades of experience and research have led corrections professionals to develop a set of guiding principles that, when implemented correctly, can help reduce reoffending and violations of conditions of probation and parole. These principles—known as the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) principles—help policymakers, administrators, and practitioners determine how to allocate resources, deliver services, and provide the right people with the right supports and services in order to have the greatest impact on recidivism and public safety.
The Risk Principle: Match the intensity of individuals’ interventions to their level of risk for criminal activityResearch shows that prioritizing supervision and services for individuals at moderate or higher risk of committing a future crime can lead to a significant reduction in recidivism among this group. Conversely, intensive interventions for individuals who are at a low risk of recidivism may actually be harmful and contribute to increasing the person’s likelihood of engaging in criminal behavior. High-intensity programming or supervision for lower-risk individuals has been shown to be an ineffective use of resources.
The Need Principle: Target criminogenic needs, which are factors that contribute to the likelihood of new criminal activity.The need principle directs that treatment and case management should prioritize the core “criminogenic needs” that can be positively impacted through services, supervision, and supports. Research indicates that the greater the number of criminogenic needs addressed through interventions, the greater impact the interventions will have on lowering the likelihood of recidivism. There is also evidence that the number of treatment hours an individual receives influences the effectiveness of the intervention. Higher-risk individuals require more program hours than lower-risk individuals, and providing too many treatment hours to lower-risk individuals can have adverse effects. Structuring higher-risk individuals’ time in programming helps minimize exposure to antisocial influences, whereas it can interrupt the very kinds of prosocial activities (including work and family time) that qualify individuals as lower risk.
The core “criminogenic needs” include:
- Presence of Antisocial Behavior: early and continuing involvement in a number and variety of antisocial acts in a variety of settings
- Antisocial Personality Pattern: adventurous, pleasure-seeking, weak self-control, and restlessly aggressive
- Antisocial Cognition: attitudes, values, beliefs, and rationalizations supportive of crime; displays of anger, resentment, and defiance; and negative attitudes toward the law and justice systems
- Antisocial Associates: close association with criminals and relative isolation from law-abiding individuals; positive and immediate reinforcement for criminal behavior
- Family and/or Marital: poor relationship quality with little mutual caring or respect; poor nurturance and caring for children; and few expectations that family members will avoid criminal behavior
- School and/or Work: poor interpersonal relationships within school or work setting. Low levels of performance and satisfaction in school and/or work
- Leisure and/or Recreation: low levels of involvement and satisfaction in noncriminal leisure pursuits
- Substance Abuse: abuse of alcohol and/or other drugs (tobacco excluded)
The responsivity principle highlights the importance of reducing barriers to learning by addressing learning styles, reading abilities, and motivation when designing supervision and service strategies. Research shows that social learning approaches and cognitive behavioral therapies are generally effective in meeting a range of these needs, regardless of the type of crime committed. Prosocial modeling and skills development, teaching problem-solving skills, and using more positive reinforcement than negative have all been shown to be effective and reflect this approach.
Why the RNR principles matter for employment-oriented reentry programs
Research has demonstrated that reducing recidivism requires that scarce corrections programming, treatment, and supervision resources be prioritized for people at higher risk for criminal activity (determined by the risk-factors score on a validated assessment tool). The RNR principles should be integrated into any programs that serve large numbers of individuals with criminal histories— including employment programs. Application of the risk principle can help service providers and administrators triage their more expensive and intensive services and decide how to allocate other resources. Further, prioritizing by risk allows correctional supervisors to free up resources that had been devoted to managing and supervising low-risk individuals who receive unneeded services to refocus those resources where they will have greater impact. Addressing criminogenic risk and responsivity factors is also important for improving individuals’ levels of employability and ability to benefit from education and job readiness programming.
To this end, the white paper and resource-allocation and service-matching tool encourage policymakers and program administrators to use validated assessments to objectively determine individuals’ levels of risk of criminal behavior. It is the first step in matching people with criminal histories to employment services while reducing their risk of reoffending. These assessments can also inform supervision policies and non-employment-related service placements (such as mental health treatment) that may impact the effectiveness of employment interventions.
Key Takeaways from Section I
1. RNR principles provide evidence-based guidance on who should be prioritized to receive interventions and help determine what needs those interventions should address in order to reduce reoffending. For employment service providers serving people with criminal histories, the RNR principles help determine where resources can have the greatest impact not only on improving the likelihood that individuals can connect to the workforce, but also on increasing public safety by reducing their chances of future criminal activity.
2. RNR principles promote a cost-effective approach by ensuring that resources are focused on individuals with criminal histories who need services most, and are not misspent on individuals with criminal histories who are likely to succeed with little or no interventions (or worse, increase recidivism by interrupting prosocial activities and exposing low-risk individuals unnecessarily to high-risk releasees or probationers).
3. Validated, objective risk/needs assessments are essential for effectively implementing the RNR principles. To the extent that information from these assessments can be appropriately shared by corrections with workforce development professionals and other reentry or community-based service providers, the results can enhance service matching (including for responsivity issues) and reduce the burden of conducting multiple screenings.
4. For individuals with antisocial thinking, behaviors, personality patterns, and peers, cognitive behavioral interventions may be needed both to reduce their likelihood of reoffending and to prepare them for the workplace. Responsivity issues such as learning disabilities and mental, physical, or substance use disorders may also need to be addressed before corrections or employment interventions can be successful.
5. The resource-allocation and service-matching tool begins with the application of RNR principles to ensure individuals who have been under corrections control are grouped by risk of future criminal behavior. In doing so, it makes certain that both employment services and recidivism-reduction interventions (including probation or parole supervision) are tailored to individual needs.
Section II: Improving Outcomes for Hard-to-Employ IndividualsThis section of the white paper outlines common challenges faced by hard-to-employ individuals, including those with criminal histories, discusses workforce development strategies to improve individuals’ level of job readiness, and presents five “service-delivery principles” that can be applied to workforce development/job readiness interventions to address criminogenic risk factors.
Challenges faced by hard-to-employ individuals
The term “hard to employ” can be used to describe individuals who, owing to their personal issues and external factors, have a particularly difficult time connecting to the labor market. Characteristics associated with people who are hard to employ include, for example, challenges with transportation and housing, education and skill deficits, and health or other needs that impair an individual’s ability to attain and retain employment (including responsivity factors). Table 1 lists some of the common characteristics of hard-to-employ individuals.
Individuals with criminal records are often considered a subgroup of the hard-to-employ population because having a criminal record can create significant additional barriers to employment, including:
- statutory limitations on accessing particular professions
- employer reluctance to hire individuals with criminal records
- logistical issues resulting from the terms of an individual’s release or supervision
Promising workforce development strategies
There are many programs that have been used over the past several decades in the workforce development field to help hard-to-employ individuals, including those with criminal histories. This section discusses eight components of programs that, when combined based on individual need, have shown promising results for improving individuals’ level of job readiness and employment outcomes.1. Education and Training
Education and training cover a wide range of programs, including Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Educational Development (GED) preparation and certification, and post-secondary coursework, including vocational training. Education and training are key components of job-readiness preparation and are critically important for increasing access to higher-quality employment opportunities. Whether an individual receives basic education, post-secondary education, or more technical training is dependent on his or her distinct set of needs.2. Soft/Cognitive-Skill Development
Soft-skill development, including addressing cognitive-related attitudinal issues, is crucial for promoting individuals’ success in the workplace. Typical soft-skill programming includes instruction on how to be professional on the job, how to manage conflicts with coworkers or superiors, and how to manage time to ensure punctuality. Depending on individuals’ deficits, they may be taught these skills prior to job placement, on the job, or both.3. Transitional-Job Placements
Transitional jobs are a type of subsidized employment program in which temporary, income-generating employment is provided to hard-to-employ individuals with the goal of improving their employability through work experience, skills development, and supportive services. What distinguishes transitional jobs from other subsidized employment is that they are intended to be a temporary, developmental experience that helps individuals learn and apply basic work-readiness skills to improve their competitiveness in the job market.4. Non-skill-Related Interventions
There are a number of additional challenges that may prevent an individual from finding and maintaining employment that cannot be directly addressed by traditional job preparation strategies. Needs related to an individual’s ability to learn or respond to programming, such as a serious mental illness, learning disability, or substance abuse issue, may need to be addressed in order for the participant to benefit from an employment program. Less serious problems may be addressed concurrent with other programming. Logistical challenges, including the need for stable housing, clothing, identification, transportation, and child care, may also prevent an individual from obtaining or holding a job.5. Non-transitional Subsidized Employment
Programs providing subsidized employment but not “transitional jobs” pay some of participants’ wages for a trial period, during which the employers and/or program provides training and support services to better prepare participants for permanent, unsubsidized employment. Unlike transitional jobs, subsidized employment placements typically can convert into permanent jobs for the individual after the subsidy period ends.6. Job Development and Coaching
Job development and coaching services are intended to connect an individual with unsubsidized employment opportunities. Job developers work with local employers to identify job openings. In contrast, job coaches help prepare the individual for a job search—developing a resume, searching for appropriate jobs, and completing the application process.7. Retention and Advancement Services
Retention and career advancement services are typically provided to individuals after placement in an unsubsidized job to assist with any issues that have the potential to impact tenure. Services may include helping hard-to-employ individuals identify and address problems, or assisting with reemployment in cases of job loss. Staff may also work to match clients with higher-paying jobs or education opportunities to promote advancement8. Financial Work Incentives
Incentives, typically in the form of supplemental monthly cash payments, can encourage job retention. This work incentive model was developed in the 1990s during welfare reform efforts and has been shown to increase employment rates. Payments can be provided for retaining employment or for moving to higher-quality jobs to encourage advancement (as measured by higher wages, better benefits, or full-time instead of part-time employment).
Implementing a comprehensive initiative that incorporates job readiness, placement, and retention components is a significant challenge for fiscally strapped municipalities, counties, and states.Opportunities for job placement continue to be very limited due to labor market conditions and pressure to reduce public-sector payrolls. As such, it is critical that employment service providers triage their resources according to the job-readiness needs of individuals, as shown in this segment of the resource-allocation and service-matching tool:
Integrating risk-reduction strategies into employment programs
The way employment programs are implemented (service delivery) can impact recidivism reduction by providing a prosocial, structured, positive environment. There are five basic service-delivery principles that emerge when examining how employment program components can be carried out to both reduce recidivism and improve workforce outcomes. These principles embrace the tenets of RNR and can help shape employment programs in ways that position them to assist participants in avoiding criminal activity, and ultimately enhance their level of employability as well.
- Engagement: Address antisocial thinking and behavior through high-impact staff and client interactions (e.g., mentoring relationships or cognitive-based interventions).
- Timing: Provide services shortly before or directly at release, or at the start of community supervision, to address individuals’ immediate problems, and adapt the services to individual’s changing needs over time.
- Incentives: Increase motivation for positive change and job performance with such measures as stipends for maintaining employment and peer-supported recognition for program completion.
- Coordination: Collaborate with corrections, workforce, and reentry professionals and other service providers to ensure that interventions are provided in ways that support recidivism reduction and employment goals.
- Structured Time: Organize individuals’ time with effective programming and positive activities to minimize opportunities for criminal actions and time with antisocial peers.
It is critical that the intensity of service delivery provided to individuals is driven by their individual risk-levels and needs. For example, higher-risk individuals will need more intensive engagement immediately following release or at the beginning of supervision. This group may need greater incentives, coordination, and structure as employment program services are delivered. Intensity can refer to the number of services an individual requires, the frequency with which a particular service is provided, and the characteristics of the interaction or engagement with the participant. By modifying the intensity of service delivery, employment program components can be tailored to better address individual risk factors. For instance, an individual may only require one type of job-preparation service, but can be enrolled in a program that meets daily to increase its intensity.
Key Takeaways from Section II
1. People returning to the community from correctional facilities or who are under probation or parole supervision represent a subgroup of the hard-to-employ population that many American Job Centers and workforce development practitioners already serve on a daily basis. Although individuals with criminal records share many of the same challenges as the hard-to-employ population, they have additional barriers to employment that must be addressed.
2. There are workforce program components that can be used for individuals with criminal histories to improve their employment outcomes, including education and training, soft/cognitive-skill development, transitional-job placements, non-skill-related interventions, subsidized employment, job development and coaching, job retention and advancement services, and financial work incentives. In most circumstances, program components need to be used in combination to meet individuals’ complex needs as they change over time. Research has shown that simply helping a high-risk/high-need individual with a criminal history who is not job ready to write a resume and apply for jobs is not enough.
3. The factors that put an individual at higher risk of recidivating (criminogenic attitudes and behaviors, in particular) can have a significant impact on employability. As such, workforce development agencies and employment service providers interested in improving outcomes for individuals with criminal histories should draw from criminal justice best practices and collaborate with corrections professionals that conduct risk/needs assessments to develop integrated responses.
4. To use resources most effectively, individuals should be grouped first by level of risk, followed by a second assessment to determine job-readiness levels. Distinguishing which people with criminal histories are more job ready and which are less job ready will help guide the service-matching activities that provide the right combination of employment program components.
5. American Job Centers, as well as other workforce-development providers and their partners in the community, can be positioned to improve both employment and reentry outcomes for individuals with criminal histories. This requires the application of service-delivery principles (how to do it) to the employment program components (what to do). These service-delivery principles embrace RNR tenets and require policymakers and practitioners to pay particular attention to how individuals are engaged, the timing of engagement, incentives for program participants, coordination across systems that serve this population, and how individuals’ time is structured.
Section III: The Resource-Allocation and Service-Matching Tool
This section outlines the full resource-allocation and service-matching tool, and discusses ways it can be used for decision-making at a program administrator or policymaker level, as well as to guide individual case management decisions.
The Resource-Allocation and Service-Matching Tool
The resource-allocation and service-matching tool has been developed to help with the assessment and resource-management process and to guide the development of integrated service responses across the corrections, employment, and reentry fields. It is based on two key dimensions: the risk of reincarceration and job readiness, which are used for grouping individuals being released from prison or jail or who are under community supervision. There are four groupings that result from these two assessments, and each can be tied to a combination of corrections and supervision policies, employment program components, and service-delivery strategies.
Using the Resource-Allocation and Service-Matching Tool to make systems-level decisions Every jurisdiction has a distinct web of community-based service providers that can be used to reduce the likelihood a person will commit a crime in the future. Risk/needs and job-readiness assessments can help reveal the numbers of individuals with criminal histories that require a range of employment-readiness and placement services. This information then can be used to help identify gaps in community-based service provider expertise or inadequate capacity. Screening and assessment information can help policymakers and administrators better understand the size of the population of individuals who may avoid a costly reincarceration if given proper services and supports. In particular, the assessment results can help administrators determine what types of coordinated reentry/employment services should be made available for individuals returning from incarceration or who are under supervision. After assessments have been conducted, it should be clear what proportion of the targeted population falls into each of the four risk/readiness groupings, and how to shift resources to account for this distribution of needs.
The tool is also meant to help practitioners and program administrators meet demands for accountability by providing data-driven criteria to guide decision making. For example, if there are only 100 slots for a particular employment program, and the risk/needs assessment ranks 150 potential program participants as at high criminogenic risk with high need for services, it may be necessary to examine that group more closely to further distinguish those whose receipt of interventions would make the biggest impact on recidivism and employment outcomes. Additionally, if a lower-risk group is taking up some of the slots for services that affect employability, then it is worth considering whether some of those spaces could be freed up to serve individuals that will benefit more from the service. While these decisions can be difficult, the sorting tool can help guide these choices on how to make the most efficient use of public resources so that neighborhoods and families reap the greatest benefits.Using the Resource-Allocation and Service-Matching Tool for individual case management decisions
By applying the principles associated with risk reduction to employment program components, service packages can be tailored to address individuals’ distinct criminogenic and job-readiness needs.
- Groups 3 and 4: The Higher-Risk Groups: Groups 3 and 4 both consist of individuals that are at higher risk of future criminal activity, but have notably different levels of job readiness. Therefore, Group 4 (less job ready) will require more employment services than Group 3 to increase their employability; however, both groups will require intensive risk-reduction services to reduce their likelihood of reoffending. The more intense application of service-delivery principles (including corrections supervision coordination) will look very similar for both of these groups because of their higher-risk levels. In contrast, employment program components will be individually tailored to address different job-readiness levels.
Groups 1 and 2: The Lower-Risk Groups: Groups 1 and 2 are composed of individuals who are at a lower risk of recidivating, but have different levels of job readiness. Given their lower risk level, Groups 1 and 2 have less of a need for, and are less likely to benefit from, placements in programs that are specifically designed to reduce risk factors related to criminal activity. Groups 3 and 4 should receive priority placements into these interventions instead. Because Groups 1 and 2 are both low risk, the service-delivery principles associated with recidivism reduction will look very similar, but the program components that address job readiness will differ. Generally, Group 2 individuals should receive priority placements into job-readiness services. Group 1 is more likely to be successful with less-intensive programs and will benefit most from placements into job-retention services or self-directed programs.
For examples of how this might apply to specific cases, see pages 46-55 of the white paper.Key Takeaways from Section III
- The resource-allocation and service-matching tool can help employment, reentry, and corrections professionals improve outcomes for their shared population. Policymakers and administrators can use the tool to better determine whether their resources are being used to their best effect and practitioners can help ensure that the right people get the right interventions at the right time, and in ways that reduce their chances for reincarceration.
- There are four groupings that result from criminogenic risk/needs and job-readiness assessments of unemployed individuals released from prison or jail or starting probation or parole. These groupings can be tied to a combination of corrections and supervision policies, employment program components, and service-delivery strategies aimed at reducing recidivism. Line-level staff can then individualize plans to meet the diverse needs of individuals within each grouping.
- Using assessment data and cut-off scores to define the size of the four groupings and then determining the available service/supervision slots, system administrators can better decide whether resources should be developed or reallocated (such as when analyses reveal that lower-risk/more job-ready individuals are taking up spaces in programs that they do not need to succeed).
- Although workforce development agencies already invest in employment interventions for people with criminal histories that come through their doors, they are often not oriented to identify higher-risk individuals and provide them with the type of intensive, specialized programming required to keep them out of prison and jail and connected to the workforce. The tool is meant to help jurisdictions narrow the population to be targeted for intensive services and leverage their collective resources through multisystem collaboration, cross-training, and planning to reduce individuals’ criminogenic risk factors that affect employability. By applying certain service-delivery principles to traditional employment interventions, service providers can make better use of existing employment resources in the community to reduce recidivism.
- The examples provided in the white paper primarily combine existing system responses for each of the four groupings, but it is hoped that through coordinated multidisciplinary planning, new integrated responses will be envisioned by corrections, reentry, and employment professionals that make the most efficient and effective use of their collective resources.
Key Terms and Definitions Used in the White PaperCriminogenic Risk (Risk): The likelihood that an individual will engage in new criminal activity. In this context, risk does not refer to the seriousnessof a crime that a person may commit in the future. Instead, standard assessments generally provide information simply on the likelihood that a person will reoffend.
Criminogenic Needs (Needs): The characteristics (such as antisocial attitudes, beliefs, and thinking patterns) or circumstances (such as a person’s friends or family dynamics) that research has shown are associated with criminal behavior, but which a person can change.Hard to Employ: A term commonly used to describe individuals with chronic unemployment. It is often associated with such attributes as low levels of education (personal factors) or having a criminal record (external factors). In cases in which external factors determine that individuals are hard to employ, it is important to note that this classification does not indicate whether they are “job ready.”
Job Readiness: A determination based on personal characteristics that make an individual more or less competitive in the labor market. These characteristics generally include personal and family challenges, education and hard skill deficits, soft skill deficits or related attitudinal issues, and other needs that may impair individuals’ ability to attain and retain employment (including what the RNR model considers “responsivity” factors). It is common for less job-ready individuals to have multiple, complex needs; although it is also possible for a single severe problem to prevent readiness. Services to address these obstacles to job placement are referred to as job-readiness or job preparation services throughout the white paper.
Job-Readiness Assessments: Typically a structured series of questions to help collect consistent, useful information from potential program participants. Most job-readiness assessments commonly ask questions about a person’s history of employment; education and certification accomplishments; and attitude toward work, general motivation, and resilience when disappointment occurs.Recidivism: The repetition of criminal or delinquent behavior, most often measured as a new arrest, conviction, or return to prison and/or jail for the commission of a new crime or for the violation of conditions of supervision.
Risk/Needs Assessment: A comprehensive examination and evaluation of both dynamic (changeable) and static (historical and/or demographic) criminogenic factors that predict risk of recidivism. Results can be used to guide decisions about services, placements, supervision, and sentencing in some cases.i. Joe Graffam, Alison Shinkfield, Barbara Lavelle, and Wenda McPherson, “Variables Affecting
Successful Reintegration as Perceived by Offenders and Professionals,” Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 40, no. 1/2 (2004): 147–171
iv. Don A. Andrews, Ivan Zinger, Robert D. Hoge, James Bonta, Paul Gendreau, and Francis T. Cullen, “Does Correctional Treatment Work? A Psychologically Informed Meta-Analysis.” Criminology 28, no. 3 (1990): 369–404.
v. Craig Dowden and Don A. Andrews, “The Importance of Staff Practices in Delivering Effective
Correctional Treatment: A Meta-Analysis of Core Correctional Practices,” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 48, no. 2 (2004): 203–214
vi. Christopher T. Lowenkamp and Edward J. Latessa, “Increasing the Effectiveness of Correctional
Programming Through the Risk Principle: Identifying Offenders for Residential Placement,”
Criminology and Public Policy 4, no. 2 (2005): 263–290; Clement, Schwarzfeld, and Thompson, The National Summit on Justice Reinvestment and Public Safety: Addressing Recidivism, Crime, and Corrections Spending