Reducing recidivism through corrections and workforce partnerships
States are making the investment to strengthen the bond between workforce agencies and state and local corrections entities
By Deane Toler and Richard Boone
Reducing recidivism directly benefits society in numerous ways, including increasing safety in our communities, decreasing victimization rates, reducing criminal justice costs and fostering family preservation.
Lack of employment can have a significant impact on an individual’s tendency to re-offend. Studies have shown that unemployment rates are highest for ex-offenders within the first two years of their release and that programs focusing on pro-active, pre-release job placement reduce the likelihood of recidivism, especially among non-violent offenders.
Over the past decade, many justice and labor departments have concluded that partnerships are necessary for bringing the latest job readiness programs and workforce development technology to inmates. These efforts involve a variety of initiatives, including job fairs, job readiness training and soft skills awareness activities.
In recognition of this need, states are making the investment to strengthen the bond between workforce agencies and state and local corrections entities. The staggering costs of incarceration have led to criminal justice reforms across all levels of government. This has resulted in the reduction of inmate populations.
States leading the push for post-release employment initiatives
California, Virginia and Connecticut are launching collaborative projects to give those participating in reentry programs tools to begin their job search journey pre-release.
Employers are beginning to recognize that a criminal record should not automatically disqualify a candidate from employment. In fact, some research has shown that employees with a criminal history have a deep desire to work and establish self-sufficiency; they exhibit more loyalty to their employer and tend to stay in their jobs longer.
In his book "Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community," author Jeffrey Korzenik cites numerous examples of companies, both large and small, that have had great success in hiring people with criminal records. He believes that two-thirds of the estimated 600,000 people released from federal and state prisons annually are either employable at release or can be prepared for employment post-release.
Government-sponsored programs providing incentives
Employers are also taking advantage of government-sponsored workforce development incentives that promote hiring ex-offenders. Examples include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) and the Federal Bonding Program. Corrections and workforce agencies are becoming much more aggressive in courting and educating employers on the benefits of hiring those who have been justice-involved.
The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 established public employment locations known as Career One Stop Centers across the country. As the technology evolved, states began providing web-based career services that enabled citizens to go online to create résumés, conduct labor market research, take skills assessments, identify training and apply for jobs.
Promoting employment results in reduced recidivism
Studies have shown that providing these online tools in conjunction with job readiness training, has drastically reduced recidivism rates among those under community supervision.
In recent years, partnerships between state workforce and corrections agencies have offered these online tools to the justice-involved, with much success, including pre-release inmates in jails. This has provided inmates access to the internet while still incarcerated, which has long been a topic of debate.
Opponents point to the numerous security threats that access would invite while proponents see internet connectivity as a vital aspect of rehabilitation. Many believe that it builds trust and improved success rates with post-release employment prospects. Those who are internet-savvy have a distinct advantage over those who are not.
Encouraging online access for prisoners while incarcerated is a trend
Recently, correction facilities and the departments that govern them have become more open to allowing such technologies. In some facilities, tablets are being deployed to inmates as a means to offer educational and entertainment content, or as a way to help modify behavior. Prisoners can also communicate with family through these devices, which generate revenue based on usage.
There are multiple ways to manage the security threat that comes with internet access, including restricting access to prohibited websites and illegal communications. With a few modifications to the state’s workforce system, inmates can take advantage of all the functionality that job seekers on the outside enjoy. They can build résumés, take skills assessments, conduct labor market research, and yes, apply for jobs and communicate directly with employers – albeit under staff member supervision.
These sites can be modified so that access to any other outside website is prohibited, and staff have control over the application process. They can also control communications between inmates and potential employers, and when the job seeker is released from custody, there is a "warm handoff" to the full, unrestricted state portal. This means that all the pre-release legwork they’ve done while incarcerated – creating résumés, taking part in skills assessments, and applying for jobs – carries over with them to the state labor exchange site.
Some of these systems will include features that will benefit justice-involved job seekers, specifically. In 2015, former President Barack Obama launched the Fair Chance Pledge, stating that:
Around 70 million Americans have some sort of criminal record. Now, often times, that record disqualifies you from being a full participant in our society – even if they’ve already paid their debt to society. It means millions of Americans have difficulty even getting their foot in the door to try to get a job, much less actually hang on to that job. That's bad for not only those individuals, but it’s also bad for our economy. It’s bad for the communities that desperately need more role models who are gainfully employed. So, we have got to make sure Americans who have paid their debt to society, can earn their second chance.”
Reemployment portals make it easy for job seekers and employers alike
Fair Chance employers (aka Second Chance employers) will have an opportunity to designate their organization as such, within these portals. They can also flag postings as "Second Chance" jobs, which will be highlighted/recognized in a job seeker's job search results list.
Inmates also have the opportunity to have their employment-related activity tracked early on in their sentence. Profiles can be created at the beginning of their incarceration, which allows them to track jobs they have performed for prison industries, certifications they have obtained, courses they have taken and commendations they have been awarded. All this information will be reflected in their résumés long before they transition out of the facility and back into society. Once they have entered the re-entry program prior to release, their résumé is ready for use in the state’s workforce system.
These portals promote collaboration among staff and case managers, who can remotely track job seeker activity and assist with various features of the system. This is particularly beneficial in times like the COVID pandemic when in-person visits were prohibited.
Time served should not bar any individual from taking advantage of any opportunity to create stability, post-release.
About the authors
Deane Toler has over 20 years of experience promoting, developing and delivering new technologies within service industries, including corrections, education and government. At Geographic Solutions, his responsibilities include business development, strategic partnerships, and overseeing the marketing and sales teams. In addition, he serves as the development and implementation liaison of workforce development systems in the western U.S. He can be reached at email@example.com or (727)786-7955.
Richard Boone is a business development executive for Geographic Solutions, focusing on workforce solutions in the corrections and community supervision markets. These solutions help state and local agencies reduce recidivism by providing tools that help justice-involved individuals better position themselves for employment, both pre- and post-release. Richard works directly with state departments of correction, county jails, and county community corrections offices, as well as reentry program providers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)786-7955.