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Offender employment

Three distinct time periods frame the juvenile justice process: before, during, and after incarceration. This article focuses on services and supports at each of these critical stages, specifically regarding employability skills. These skills, although supportive of, are different than vocational skills. Beyond specific trade skills, employability skills include at a minimum: effective communication, problem solving, taking responsibility, and teamwork. These skills are important in many areas in addition to employment, but they are perhaps most essential to obtain and hold a job. Thus, in this article, the psychological damage of youth incarceration is examined as well as the impact on obtaining and maintaining employment post incarceration. Existing programs and supports for employability skills are explored for before, during, and after incarceration. Finally, resources for practitioners are provided and the needs for future research are discussed (p. 42). Sections of this article include: introduction; the importance of employability skills; psychological damage; trauma-informed care; employment post incarceration; conceptual framework—life course theory; instructional programs targeting competencies for employability skills—before incarceration (examples of employability skills programs, and missed opportunities), during incarceration (examples of employability skills programs, and unmet need), and after incarceration (examples of employability skills programs, and remaining needs); the necessity of further research and development—resources for practitioners, future research, programs and practices, desistance or recidivism, and community-based alternatives; and conclusion.

Easing Reentry through Employability Skills Training for Incarcerated Youth Cover

The Employer-Driven Employment Model for Justice-Involved Individuals illustrates four key processes (or sets of steps) that lead to job placement. Using labor market information, you can target justice-involved individuals for high-growth occupations and prepare them for employment in these fields by focusing on employers’ expectations for skilled, productive, and dependable employees with soft skills and industry-standard training and certifications. This is what is called the “employer-driven approach.”

The four key processes of the employer-driven approach do not happen in a specific order, but they do occur continually and overlap across criminal justice systems through intake, pretrial, incarceration, and community supervision. They are facilitated by the stakeholder partnerships that provide services and resources both inside and outside prison walls.

The Employer-Driven Employment Toolkit provides examples of effective practices, strategies, tips and resources for implementing four key processes in the model:

  1. Use labor market information to identify high-growth occupations and target specific businesses.
  2. Address employer needs and expectations in marketing, placement, and job retention efforts.
  3. Prepare justice-involved individuals for employment, with an emphasis on soft-skills and industry-standard training and certifications that will meet employers’ expectations for qualified applicants.
  4. Engage and partner with stakeholders who can help provide critical resources and support services.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why an employer-driven model?

Corrections professionals have several critical missions with one overriding goal: to ensure that inmates who leave supervision do not reoffend and do not return to prison. Research confirms that employment is important to successful reentry, so training and job placement programs are essential to connecting inmates to the labor market upon their release. While many of these programs exist, few are driven by an intentional partnership with the business/employer community. The most successful employment programs are ones that are employer-driven; they are built on labor market information that targets employers who are hiring, industry-standard training and certifications that meet employers’ expectations, and placement that focuses on benefits to employers.

How are the Model and Toolkit used?

The Employer-Driven Employment Model and Toolkit provide practitioners with a blueprint and resources needed to build an effective employer-driven job training and placement program for justice-involved individuals. They also outline the steps needed to ensure that employment programs meet current and future labor market demands.

The toolkit highlights effective practices from highly successful employment programs that are meeting the needs of employers while increasing public safety and reducing recidivism. Here’s what you’ll find in the toolkit:

  • Brief descriptions of replicable, effective practices.
  • Key questions and answers to employment readiness and job placement concerns.
  • Links to resources and contacts that provide access to various strategies for supporting employer- driven job preparation, placement, and retention.
  • Applying the toolkit concepts and strategies will take different shapes according to local needs and opportunities. The intent is for you to adapt these concepts in ways that work for your own facilities and individual programs.

How is the Toolkit implemented?

Relationships are the central theme of the toolkit. While there are many examples of strong relationships between corrections agencies and business, the fact remains that employers are not lining up outside of correctional facilities waiting to hire men and women leaving supervision. Corrections agencies and individual facilities and programs must reach out to employers.

This means agencies must designate or hire professional staff to do much of the work described in the toolkit. Employment specialists must get out from behind their desks to begin engaging with businesses and employers. The employment specialist must be able to: [

  • Navigate corrections and business environments.
  • Demonstrate the value of hiring justice-involved individuals.
  • Describe the training, skills, and screening that inmates gain while incarcerated.
  • Be able to listen to employers describe their needs so that the best possible match can be made between inmates and job openings.

Lastly, specialists must be able to develop relationships with employers that are strong enough to overcome the inevitable challenges that will occur along the path toward successful attachment to the labor market.

Relationships represented in the model will take time and energy to initiate and effort to maintain over the long term. To establish an employer-driven job placement model, facilities, programs, and systems will need to make an investment in human capital. Collective experience in the corrections field informs us that only with this investment will efforts at increasing employment, reducing recidivism, and improving public safety succeed.

“The purpose of this bulletin is to explore the literature and summarize the empirical evidence related to the impact of employment on the criminal behavior of women” (p. 2). Sections comprising this publication are: female offender demographics; barriers to employment—overview, the role of the family and the community, time-management skills, and the role of agency; correctional education and vocational programs—education programs, vocational/technical programs, overall effectiveness of these programs, and outcomes for female offenders in educational and vocational programs; employment and crime—the role of employment and desistance from crime, employment outcomes and female offenders, and exploring gender differences in employment and crime; and conclusion.

Employment and Female Offenders:  An Update of the Empirical Research Cover

"As justice-involved individuals move through the criminal-justice system, correctional staff use case management tools to monitor progress. Case management involves monitoring individuals to ensure their completion of court-ordered sanctions, such as community service hours, payment of fees, or restitution, without reoffending. The National Institute of Corrections (NIC) also expands the definition to include evaluating and assessing the need to connect justice-involved individuals to appropriate services and resources based on their risk to reoffend.

"A new case management tool, the Employment Retention Inventory (ERI), is the focus of a study funded by the National Institute of Corrections. The study aims to: • Determine the effectiveness of the ERI in predicting job loss. • Identify and target the risk factors related to recidivism that also contribute to job loss.

"The tool and the results of the study may be useful for employment specialists working in the field of corrections, as outcomes may affect their ability to help justice-involved individuals secure and maintain long-term employment."

This fact sheet highlights what the ERI is. The ERI is being evaluated in collaboration with the Urban Institute until September 8, 2015.

Employment Retention Inventory Explores the Predictive Factors of Job Loss: Research Project cover

This “recent outcome evaluation of the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (InnerChange), a faith-based prisoner reentry program that has operated within Minnesota’s prison system since 2002, showed the program is effective in lowering recidivism. This study extends research on InnerChange by conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the program. Because InnerChange relies heavily on volunteers and program costs are privately funded, the program exacts no additional costs to the State of Minnesota. As a result, this study focuse[s] on estimating the program’s benefits by examining recidivism and post-release employment” (p. 227). Results show that InnerChange substantially reduced recidivism, increased post-release employment, both at a savings of $8,300 per participant.

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The Evidenced-Based Workforce Training Series - based on evidence-based practices - shows staff how to combine cognitive behavioral interventions with motivational interviewing techniques to address offenders’ gainful attachment to the workforce and/or job loss. This “hand in glove” approach supports the honest exploration of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs affecting offender employment while addressing quality of life issues. In addition, the series uses the Employment Retention Inventory, a case management tool that connects justice-involved adults to appropriate services and support.

This series applies spiral curriculum approach to learning, where topics and themes repeat but increase in depth each time they appear to allow for mastery of knowledge and skills.

The Evidenced-Based Workforce Training Series consists of the following training events:

Employment Retention: Principles and Practice (24-hour regional training)

  • Introduction to motivational interviewing techniques
  • Introduction to cognitive behavioral interventions
  • Career theory and assessments

E-Learning Modules (4-hour web-based training)

  • Employment retention strategies
  • Evidence-based concepts
  • Motivational interviewing

Employment Retention: Criminal Justice System (40-hour instructor-led)

  • Continuum of care model
  • Career theory operationalization
  • Employment Retention Inventory

Professional Coaching Sessions (2-hour quarterly sessions)

  • Skill mastery
  • Knowledge enhancement 

This document briefly reviews the strong link between offender employment and recidivism. "Extensive research has demonstrated that strong ties to work can lead to desistance of offending. Based on the scientific evidence, education and vocational training programs work. They increase the rate of employment for ex-offenders, and meaningful work is an important contributor to less offending. More importantly, the evidence clearly shows that they reduce recidivism and provide a positive return on investment."

Executive Summary: Research Supporting Employment as an Important Component of Evidence-Based Practice Cover

"The immediate months after prison are a critical transition period, which can determine future trajectories of successful reintegration or recidivism. Finding employment after prison is considered a key, if not the most important, condition to prevent recidivism; however, individuals face numerous obstacles to finding work. Although many of these barriers have been documented, methodological difficulties prevent a thorough understanding of how they impact the actual job searching and working experiences of individuals at reentry" (p. iii). The author explains how she used smartphones to address this gap in the knowledge. This document is comprised of six chapters: introduction; pounding the pavement—searching and working after prison; whether going it alone—social connectivity and finding work after prison; job search and emotional wellbeing at reentry; utilizing smartphones to study disadvantaged and hard-to-reach groups; and conclusions. "Analyses of detailed smartphone measures reveal a reentry period characterized by very short-term, irregular, and poor-quality work … In contrast to prevailing notions in reentry scholarship, individuals are not social isolates or deeply distraught about their job searches; rather, they are highly connected to others and feel happier while searching for work. These results indicate that the low employment rates of reentering individuals are not due to person-specific deficiencies of low social connectivity and poor emotional wellbeing. Reentering individuals, however, remain deeply disadvantaged in the labor market, where they compete for work within a structure of deteriorated opportunities for low-skill, urban, and minority jobseekers more generally. Relegated to the lowest rungs of the market, reentering individuals obtain jobs that are very sporadic and precarious. These findings challenge the established idea that finding suitable employment in today’s labor market is an attainable goal for reentering individuals" (p. iii).

Finding Work: A Smartphone Study of Job Searching, Social Contacts, and Wellbeing after Prison Cover

This document highlights the roles of and activities performed by six federal agencies in the provision of apprenticeships for federal offenders. The cooperating agencies are U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Pretrial Services, U.S. Probation, U.S. Bureau of Prisons, Community Corrections Centers, and U.S. Probation.

Implementing Apprenticeships: A Transitional Approach with Offenders (Pre-plea to Release from Supervision) Cover

Skills, functions, and duties are provided for the following job descriptions: Offender Employment Specialist (OES); Offender Job Retention Employment Specialist (OJRS); Offender Workforce Development Specialist (OWDS); and Offender Workforce Development Program Manager (OWDPM).

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