Navigating Employment After Incarceration
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- Lack of skills and education can be a barrier to employment after prison.
- The White House launched an Incarceration to Employment plan to help with job training.
- People can begin learning job skills and trades while incarcerated.
- Some businesses focus on hiring formerly incarcerated people to offer them a second chance.
Over 2 million people in the United States are imprisoned. People often have to start from scratch when they are released from prison. They may have to find housing and transportation. They also need a job that provides an income to pay for their needs.
Being incarcerated may lead to feeling unprepared for the job market and can make it hard to find employment. Programs and resources exist to lend a helping hand to individuals after their release. This page looks at barriers to getting a job, ways to prepare for the workforce, and help to find employment after incarceration.
Employment Barriers Facing Formerly Incarcerated People
People searching for a job after prison face several obstacles.
- Lack of housing: According to a 2018 study by Prison Policy Initiative, previously incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general U.S. population.
- Limited access to education: If a person can't enhance their skills, they can't prepare for certain jobs.
- Lack of familiarity with technology: "The biggest thing preparation-wise is to have some type of computer knowledge. Get support while incarcerated or right out the gate, [especially] basic skills in email communication," advised Kriss Goss-Marr, senior program manager for Impact Justice.
- Incarceration itself: A 2021 U.S. Department of Justice report found that more than 30% of people released from incarceration in 2010 still had not found work as of 2014.
- Personal feelings and social stigma: Shame and embarrassment about disclosing a record can keep many people from finding employment. "The reality is there's such a stigma on those who are coming back from involvement in the justice system. It can be very challenging," notes Goss-Marr.
Incarceration to Employment Plan
In April 2022, the White House launched its Incarceration to Employment Plan. The goal is to create more jobs and learning opportunities for people with criminal records. "In general, the overall vision is to really provide a second chance. I think, for a lot of these individuals, it's the first chance," says Goss-Marr.
The plan provides job training through a partnership with the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor. Between 2022-2023, the Department of Labor plans to invest $140 million to help people incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons with job skills and reentry plans after release. Formerly incarcerated individuals also have greater access to business funds through the Small Business Administration.
"In general, the overall vision is to really provide a second chance. I think, for a lot of these individuals, it's the first chance."
— Kriss Goss-Marr
Other highlights include encouraging businesses to hire former prisoners and providing $60 million to promote digital literacy in underserved communities. The plan also creates the Bureau of Justice Assistance's reentry toolkit to improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Employers who hire those formerly imprisoned benefit from the plan as well. They can receive tax credits and take advantage of the Federal Bonding Program.
States With Ban-the-Box Laws
Ban-the-Box laws require that criminal history questions be removed from job applications. "You at least have to give us an interview so you can see our character. [The law] made it illegal for businesses and companies to ask if you have a felony," says James Badue. Badue, who worked to get the measure passed in Minnesota and served time in prison, is the founder of Proof, a human rights organization dedicated to pursuing rights for Black Americans.
The number of states adopting Ban-the-Box laws varies by employer and employment sector. Thirty-seven states enforce the law in the public sector: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Fifteen states extend the law to private sector employers: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
Other states continue to evaluate the measure.
Employers Who Hire Formerly Incarcerated People
Research shows that hiring formerly incarcerated people is a smart business move. Formerly incarcerated employees are less likely to resign than their colleagues and stay for a longer tenure.
A 2021 Society for Human Resource Management survey shows that 82% of people would patronize a business that employs people with criminal records. This can be a win-win for businesses and their employees.
- Rubicon Bakers offers second chances to help people turn their lives around through bakery jobs.
- Turn90 says that it is "the print shop with a purpose." Behavioral classes and on-site job training give former prisoners a new lease on life.
- Rehabilitation Through the Arts uses art activities, including theater, dance, and creative writing, to help the formerly incarcerated learn life skills. They then work to become professional artists.
- A Better Way Ministries operates a program that helps men with substance use disorders, which includes men with prison records. Graduates of their program work with their moving company and in the local area. "A Better Way Ministries has a lot of ties in the community. And a lot of businesses … are very well-known with A Better Way, and if these guys graduate the program, they're almost guaranteed jobs," explains Kevin Baker, Logistics Manager and Special Projects Coordinator at A Better Way Ministries.
- Next Chapter, established in partnership with Slack, recruits and trains formerly incarcerated people, helping them get tech careers through education, apprenticeships, and mentorships.
Resources for Formerly Incarcerated People
Programs are available to help people released from prison find employment.
Research shows that approximately two-thirds of the people released from prison each year end up back in prison within three years. Securing gainful employment can help change that narrative.
Providing formerly incarcerated individuals with the support they need impacts society positively now and in the future. Job training and employment opportunities can make important differences for any individual, and this can hold especially true for those who have been incarcerated.