Education and Employability Strategies

Incarcerated individuals often have not completed secondary education, and many have very limited reading and math skills. Most have less work experience and fewer job-related skills than the general population.22 During incarceration, individuals need education and training that builds on the knowledge and skills they have already attained and provides additional job-related skills enabling them to become viable candidates in the job market in the communities to which they return.

Education and Employability Strategies

Incarcerated individuals often have not completed secondary education, and many have very limited reading and math skills. Most have less work experience and fewer job-related skills than the general population.22 During incarceration, individuals need education and training that builds on the knowledge and skills they have already attained and provides additional job-related skills enabling them to become viable candidates in the job market in the communities to which they return.

When preparing for reentry, individuals need support in performing job searches and identifying educational opportunities in the community. During reentry, many will need continuing support in performing job searches and in the interviewing and hiring process. These challenges are magnified by racial and class disparities present not only in the criminal justice system but also in the broader economic context and in the specific communities to which the released often return.23 Those who seek additional education and training need personal and financial support in identifying appropriate education and training programs, enrolling in them, and completing them.

Currently, resources and incentives for cross-system collaboration on education and employability are very limited. As a result of the recession, between 2009 and 2012, budgets for educational expenditures in correctional facilities decreased by an average 6 percent.24 Given the potential for collaboration, this is especially disheartening. Though colleges have been pushing for additional funds from both state and national government sources for correctional education, funding allocation has been irregular.25

Support for job training and placement is also poorly coordinated. While the number of individuals in technical and career programs increased by a percentage point during the same period that correctional education budgets were shrinking,26 stakeholders assert that many of these training programs teach skills that are not in demand in the job markets to which reentering individuals are returning.

Once in the job market, reentering individuals face multiple barriers: many employers are risk averse or stigmatize formerly incarcerated individuals; state licensing laws prohibit those with criminal records from practicing many licensed professions.27 Many individuals, like most job seekers, could benefit from programs to take advantage of job search tools and build their interviewing skills and confidence. Those who do gain employment in low-wage jobs may struggle to remain motivated as their wages are likely to be inadequate to cover basic living expenses and any child support debt and fines and fees they are required to pay.

Additionally, it is important to note that formerly incarcerated individuals bear more than just the opportunity costs associated with a period of time away from other employment or educational pursuits. Periods of incarceration are detriments to an individual’s chance of future opportunities because of resulting resume gaps and because a criminal history is likely to have a negative effect on a potential employer’s hiring decisions.

Create effective programming and cross-system support for education and employability during incarceration and build system support for education, training and employment post-release

The challenges to education and employability are also opportunities for greater cross-system collaboration and effective strategies to make a significant difference. Education, employment, and corrections systems can work together during incarceration and during reentry to improve incarcerated individuals’ education and skills, and to increase the potential for reentry to lead to sustained, stable employment.

Key strategies include the following:

  • Staff representing corrections, education and employment systems collaborate with the incarcerated individual to assess knowledge and skills at the start of incarceration and develop a plan for education and training based on that assessment.

Across the country, successful partnerships among correctional institutions, community colleges, and other education and training organizations, including nonprofits that focus on life skills and motivation and nonprofit and for-profit career and technical education (CTE) providers, assess individual needs and help incarcerated individuals choose appropriate education and training programs. We need to scale or replicate these partnerships for every correctional facility, to provide effective assessments for every incarcerated individual, and to update those assessments periodically. Periodic reassessments can recognize and reward achievement when the individual has advanced, and revisit the individual’s goals, motivation, learning capacity, and program choice if he or she has not made progress.


Strategy in Practice: George Mason University Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence has developed The Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) Simulation Tool. The tool is designed to assist justice agencies in determining what forms of programming will be most effective in reducing recidivism and improving outcomes for their population. The tool is also designed to guide resource allocation and help criminal justice agencies identify service provision gaps. It is made up of three linkable portals that provide support for decisions at the individual, program, and system level.

Used together, these tools can have a significant impact on recidivism at a system level.

  • Corrections, education/training organizations and public and private employers collaborate to provide appropriate programming and work opportunities during incarceration, so that skills and credentials will have value in the education system and job market after release, and money earned during incarceration is sufficient to cushion reentry.

Individual assessment should be the starting point to link incarcerated individuals with programming that is relevant to their educational levels and to the job markets to which they will be returning. Educational opportunities should be available to those incarcerated from the beginning of their term of incarceration.

Some correctional facilities have developed creative and effective partnerships with education and training counterparts, and with local employers, to provide quality training and work opportunities.

Educational engagement while incarcerated is not just instrumentally valuable as it relates to post-release life. It can yield immediate benefits to the person incarcerated as well as their place of incarceration. The incarcerated individual may experience life with more dignity; a correlation has been observed between education opportunities and a reduction in negative behavior.28

In some cases, proactive engagement with correctional facilities by educators and nonprofits has led correctional institutions to create space and programming with education and training partners.

“Every person involved in the criminal justice system has value! The Reentry Ready dialogue process was grounded in our collective belief in the dignity, humanity, and agency of system-involved individuals. I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of a process, with folks from both sides of the aisle, where we could agree and act with these principles in mind.”
Ashley McSwain, Executive Director, Community Family Life Services
“Every person involved in the criminal justice system has value! The Reentry Ready dialogue process was grounded in our collective belief in the dignity, humanity, and agency of system-involved individuals. I was pleasantly surprised to be a part of a process, with folks from both sides of the aisle, where we could agree and act with these principles in mind.”
Ashley McSwain, Executive Director, Community Family Life Services

Strategy in Practice: Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections offers inmates at its Angola prison an opportunity to learn from highly skilled peer mentors. These mentors enhance the training development in automotive and construction training classes to assist unskilled individuals in attaining an industry-based certification (IBC) in their chosen field of training. Certifications through the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) are offered to individuals as they complete the training program to assist the individual in attaining employment after release.

Funding for educational programs is a critical challenge for many corrections systems. To meet the challenge, identifying and using available resources is critical. Federal Pell Grants29 are currently available to some incarcerated individuals involved in the Second Chance Act pilot program.30 Full restoration of Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals across the country would substantially increase the resources available for higher education. For job-related skills, state workforce development boards (WBDs) can dedicate Federal Workforce Investment Opportunity Act (WIOA) funding to incarcerated individuals, and corrections institutions can work with employment skills training providers to access those funds. Expanding the availability of WIOA funds for incarcerated individuals should be a target of joint advocacy by corrections and workforce development leaders at both the Federal and state levels.

  • Corrections systems work with employers, legislatures, and service providers to ensure that incarcerated individuals earn a fair wage, and to minimize debt accrued during incarceration.

Along with work opportunity, it is important to address the issue of pay for work performed during incarceration, as well as the charges and fees that incarcerated individuals often accrue. Payment of a fair wage is an important basis for both accruing savings and building motivation for legal employment. In addition, reducing the charges and fees for services that incarcerated individuals use (for example, telephone call charges) reduces the debt that individuals need to pay off when they return to the community.

Lower debt strengthens incarcerated individuals’ incentive to work and increases the resources available to pay the costs of housing, food, health care, and transportation upon release.

  • During preparation for reentry, community-based education and employment organizations (including CTE and higher education organizations, social services, employment agencies, and employers) provide in-reach and community connections to help incarcerated individuals identify education and training and employment opportunities.

Opportunities for job searches, interviews, and work placement in the community as part of pre-release preparation can be very valuable to reentering individuals who need to build their skills, prepare resumes, gather references, and gain confidence. For these programs to be available and effective to all qualifying individuals, corrections systems need to partner with state and local labor and workforce organizations (such as local WBDs), employer organizations such as local and state chambers of commerce, and individual employers who can commit to employing a significant number of incarcerated individuals. Communication and coordination among these organizations is important to establish shared priorities and to align programs for reentering individuals. The ultimate goal is for both reentering individuals and employers to benefit from relevant and cost-effective training and job placement strategies.

Given that inclination to hire this community is at its highest when the unemployment rate is low,31 WBDs have an opportunity to offer particular help to reentering individuals who hope to take advantage of the current job market. Tracking and documenting the results of job placement for returning individuals also is important, providing evidence for success that can convince employers to continue hiring reentering individuals during times when the job market is not so tight.

During reentry, community-based education and employment organizations provide ongoing personal and financial support to reentering individuals, as well as engagement with employers, in collaboration with community supervision where relevant.


Strategy in Practice: Georgetown Law School’s Pivot Program is a non-credit-bearing certificate in business and entrepreneurship created specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals. Designed and delivered by Georgetown faculty, the Pivot Program is a one-year transition and reentry program centered on a blend of academic work and supported employment.

 

Strategy in Practice: Georgetown Law School’s Pivot Program is a non-credit-bearing certificate in business and entrepreneurship created specifically for formerly incarcerated individuals. Designed and delivered by Georgetown faculty, the Pivot Program is a one-year transition and reentry program centered on a blend of academic work and supported employment.


Strategy in Practice: The Georgia Department of Corrections, CoreCivic, Oconee Fall Line Technical College and Wiregrass Georgia Technical College have partnered to offer vocational training to incarcerated individuals to improve reentry success. Housed in Vocational Training Centers in Coffee Correctional Facility and Wheeler Correctional Facility, the welding and diesel maintenance programs provide individuals with skills in these high-demand fields.

The first months of reentry are critically important for long-term success. The risk of recidivism is higher when reentering individuals do not have a steady job or are not enrolled in an education or training program that is likely to lead to employment.32 A recent National Association of Counties (NACo) survey of 550 local WBDs found that roughly half of the respondents offer some reentry programs. Many of these programs focus on job readiness skills and on job placement. However, only 29 percent have programs that seek to educate employers about hiring reentering individuals.


Strategy in Practice: According to the National Association of Counties’ (NACo’s) survey completed in 2015, WDBs work with counties to create effective trainings and offer valuable assistance in the effort to yield positive reentry outcomes. Close to half of the WDBs that responded operated reentry programs in their communities and reported marked successes. Among the positive outcomes was a 29 percent reduction in recidivism rates and that 44 percent of the reentry programs run by the WDBs placed individuals in jobs.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution is a national non-profit based in Washington, DC that convenes individuals and organizations with divergent views to build trust, identify solutions, and form alliances for action on issues of critical public concern. Reports and recommendations issued under our auspices reflect the views of the individuals and organizations who put the ideas forward. Convergence itself remains neutral and does not endorse or take positions on recommendations of its stakeholders.

Convergence Center for Policy Resolution
1133 19th Street NW, Suite 410
Washington, DC | 20036
202 830 2310

www.convergencepolicy.org