Helping incarcerated people get ready to re-enter the job market after they’re released is something we’re passionate about here at Repowered.
Maybe you’ve heard that Repowered is a fair chance employer. But what does that mean exactly? It’s simple, really: Applicants with prior arrest or incarceration records receive a fair chance in our hiring process. In addition to being a fair chance employer, we also help support adults facing barriers to employment (including formerly incarcerated people) through our work readiness program.
The truth is, helping incarcerated people prepare for employment after their release benefits everyone: formerly incarcerated people, the businesses who hire them, and the community as a whole. Here’s how.
Post-Incarceration Unemployment by the Numbers
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the years from 1978-2015 saw massive growth in state prison populations. Men’s incarceration grew 367%, and women’s incarceration rose a whopping 834%!
Each year, more than 600,000 incarcerated people transition from prison back to the community. When they do, they face many challenges, including: finding housing, obtaining support for mental health and addiction struggles, and overcoming hurdles to employment.
Re-entering the labor market is especially difficult for people who have been to prison.
In 2008 (the most recent year for which data is available), formerly incarcerated people were unemployed at a rate of more than 27% (compared to 5.8% in the general public). This is higher than the total U.S. unemployment rate during any historical period, including the Great Depression (24.9%). (Prison Policy Initiative)
And when they do find work, it tends to be the most insecure and lowest-paying positions — often on a part-time or occasional basis. Many struggle to climb above the poverty line.
As a reminder: “unemployment rate” includes only people who want to work but can’t find a job; it does not include jobless people who are not actively looking for work. This means a high rate of unemployment doesn’t reflect an unwillingness to work — rather, it reflects structural factors like public will, policy, and practice.
In fact, formerly incarcerated people are more likely to be active in the labor market than the general population (93.3% vs 83.8%, respectively).
The Prison Policy Initiative also found that unemployment among formerly incarcerated people is highest within two years of release. This means that support both before and after release is crucial to help them successfully integrate back into the community.
Why Help Incarcerated People Get Ready for Future Employment?
Recently released prisoners face a mountain of challenges as they re-enter the community. After years with very little personal agency, re-entering the job market can feel overwhelming. Without sufficient support and resources, navigating this transition can seem nearly impossible.
But people making the transition from prison back into the community deserve a second chance and opportunities to find living wage employment. Here are just a few reasons why it’s so important to support incarcerated people as they transition back to the outside world and the job market:
Employment plays a huge role in recidivism.
Those who are unable to find employment are much more likely to become repeat offenders than those who find jobs and stay employed. Case in point: people who took part in the MN Department of Corrections’ EMPLOY program were nearly three times as likely to find a job and almost 60% less likely to become reincarcerated within two years of release.
It’s truly in everyone’s best interest to help make sure formerly incarcerated people find and remain in work that is a good fit for them.
Improved Economic Stability
Employment helps formerly incarcerated people gain economic stability after their release. And in order for people who have been incarcerated to find stable, living wage employment, they need training and support.
Helping them prepare for employment after their release is incredibly effective: Formerly incarcerated people who completed the EMPLOY program earned 86% higher wages than those who didn’t!
Fill Job Vacancies
Job vacancies have been at historic highs recently, and in many cases, previously incarcerated people could be a good fit to fill those employment gaps. But for this to work, it’s important to make sure they are ready to rejoin the workforce when they are released and that employers are willing to consider hiring them.
5 Benefits of Helping Incarcerated People Prepare for Employment After Release
Expanding on that last point, preparing incarcerated people for jobs after their release doesn’t only help them—it also benefits businesses and the wider community.
1. Broader Talent Pool
Competition for new hires has never been fiercer, so the more prospective employees in the talent pool, the better. Since one-third of all American adults have a criminal record, leaving them out of the equation will only make finding employees more difficult.
However, even highly skilled and educated formerly incarcerated people struggle to reenter the workforce due to administrative barriers or regulations that prevent them from holding professional licenses. This kind of discrimination against post-prison workers is often based on inaccurate or misguided notions about their job performance.
In reality, formerly incarcerated people often make excellent employees.
2. Improve Retention
For example, job retention tends to be higher among formerly incarcerated employees versus the general public. One study, conducted by Northwestern University in 2017, showed that “individuals with criminal records have a much longer tenure and are less likely to quit their jobs voluntarily than other workers.”
Improving retention rates and reducing turnover saves companies money and contributes to a more stable and consistent work culture.
3. Increase Workplace Diversity
Diverse perspectives lead to greater innovation and creativity. What’s more, many employees state that a diverse workplace is important to them when searching for new job opportunities.
One way to improve diversity and inclusion in your workplace is to become a fair chance employer. Hiring formerly incarcerated people ensures a workforce of people with a wide variety of abilities, education levels, and economic histories.
4. Boost Your Bottom Line
Fair chance hiring helps you attract and retain committed, qualified, diverse, and loyal employees. It’s a strategy that can improve your bottom line while also making positive contributions to the community at large.
5. Benefits for the Wider Community
As we mentioned previously, employment is one of the best ways to reduce recidivism.
Employment helps formerly incarcerated individuals overcome their increased risk of poverty, housing insecurity, and homelessness. This not only helps them build more stable lives and stay out of prison, but also benefits the wider community in reducing crime.
The Impact of Repowered’s Work Readiness Program
At Repowered, we believe that everything and everyone has value, and we work to provide fair chances for people, planet, and technology.
Providing opportunities for job training and practical experience for adults who face barriers to employment (including formerly incarcerated people) is one of our passions. Through our work readiness program, we provide hundreds of thousands of employment hours, extensive job training, and nearly a million dollars in wages each year!