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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the current unemployment rate for the United States population is 9.6% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2010). This indicates that for every 100,000 people about 10,000 people are unemployed. The current economic conditions are making it even more difficult for ex-offenders to find employment after serving their time in a correctional facility and avoid reentry into an imperfect criminal justice system.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics at midyear 2009, correctional authorities had jurisdiction over 2,297,400 prisoners (including pre-trial detainees/ remand prisoners) at the state and federal level (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009). In addition, U.S. Census bureau indicated that the United States has the highest prison population rate in the world at 748 per 100,000 (U.S. Census, 2009). A 1994 study (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994) of an estimated 300,000 persons released from prisons in 15 states, 67.5 % were rearrested within 3 years. Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), and for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%).
These statistics illustrate the prison problem in the United States, and the effect of the "revolving door." The rearrest rates indicate that the crimes committed by those that are rearrested are robbery, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and possession of or selling stolen property. All of these crimes are directly related to pursuing goods in exchange for money and the need to survive. However, research has indicated that these recidivism rates can be reduced if ex-offenders are able to secure employment within months after their release.
This paper will review the current literature of the reality of finding employment once released from prison and how employment influences recidivism. In addition, a discussion of the current employment and education programs that are being implemented in and out of correction institutions will be analyzed. The intent of this paper is to review the literature of recidivism and focus on the implementation of education and work programs in an effort to reduce reentry into the criminal justice system. In addition, principles for designing an effective prisoner reentry program with a focus on employment will be discussed.
Repercussions of a Criminal Record
According to a 2008 study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly 81 million files of criminal records existed in the United States. In addition, every year an additional 14 million arrests are made which either adds more members to the current offender population, or just becomes an additional offense to list on a job application (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009). The reviewed literature of this section will discuss the many problems that ex-cons face once released into society in an effort to survive being re-integrated into the criminal justice system.
A Review of Initiatives & Programs to Assist Offenders
This section is dedicated specifically for reviewing some of the initiatives and programs made available to ex-offenders and offenders in the United States. It should be noted that the programs and initiatives selected for review were selected based upon the author's knowledge of their existence and were not randomly selected. A total of five programs and/ or initiatives were selected to illustrate the methods being used to assist ex-offenders and offenders with reintegration and employment. Though each program implements different methods and uses a variety of sources, the author has found that they all have one intertwining commonality: to create successful contributors to society.
Ready 4 Work
"A Business, Faith, Community and Criminal Justice Partnership"
Ready 4 Work (R4W) is one of two programs developed within Operation New Hope (ONH), a community development corporation established in Jacksonville, Florida. R4W is set up as an ex-offender reentry program whose primary focus is on developing workforce training and skills to ex-offenders. The program utilizes four pillars of sources for reentry: business, faith, community, and the criminal justice system. These four pillars work together as one in order to achieve the program's main goal: "insuring a productive and lasting reentry back into civilian life for ex-offenders." However, in order for the R4W program to have success, each of the four pillars must do their part.
The business pillar of R4W is responsible for maintaining relationships with businesses in the Jacksonville area. These relationships provide opportunities for ex-offenders to be interviewed and hired in order to get reintegrated back into mainstream society. Some of these businesses include Jiffy Lube, McDonalds, and Allied Plastics. The business works with the community and it's organizations to provide ex-offenders with necessary support for a successful reentry. Some of the necessary support may include drug counseling, mental health services, or even decent clothing for a job interview. The faith community acts as the third pillar by providing services to ex-offenders and offenders in the prison system. Some of the services provided include life coaches, bible study courses, and any other faith-based services. However, in order to be considered for R4W it is up to the fourth pillar, criminal justice system, to identify those who are most likely to benefit from this program. The criminal justice system provides information to inmates prior to release, if there is an interest by inmates then R4W partners with the courts to encourage alternative sentencing for different types of offenders.
R4W has shown to have success by reducing first-year recidivism rates to between 5 and 15%. The main ingredients to the program's success are attributed to helping ex-offenders become valuable employees, getting support from community buy-in, and their data-driven approach to scrutinize the effectiveness of the program's methods. However, in order to be part of this successful program ex-offenders must eligible and stick to the strict program guidelines which are created for success (Operation New Hope, 2009).
Delancey Street Foundation
"Enter with a History, Leave with a Future"
The Delancey Street Foundation is in the midst of celebrating its 40th anniversary and is considered to be one of the country's leading residential self-help organizations. The foundation has proven its success through graduating over 18,000 underclass individuals throughout the country, by giving them an academic education, at least three marketable skills, responsibility and accountability, dignity, integrity and decency. Graduates from the program become successful, taxpaying citizens, enriched with the skills and education to lead legitimate and productive lives. What are the keys to such a successful program?
Well, the most unique aspect about the program is that the residents are ex-convicts, former substance abusers, the homeless, or any individual that has hit rock bottom. The residents have established a principle known as "each-one-teach one," which involves each resident taking the next arrival under their wing and guiding them. However, the main underlying principle implemented in the program is that for the residents "rather than solving one issue at a time (e.g., drugs or job skills) we believe that all aspects of a person's life interact, and all people must interact legitimately and successfully with others to make their lives work."
Delancey Street is therefore a total learning center in which residents learn (and teach) academics, vocational skills, and personal, interpersonal, practical and social survival skills. "We believe the best way to learn is to teach; and that helping others is an important way to earn self-reliance. Person 'A' helps person 'B' and person 'A' gets better." Therefore, Delancey Street is a self-sustaining program that allows for individuals to develop the tools necessary to become successful (Delancey Street Foundation, 2010).
Pioneer Human Services
"People Finding New Pathways"
Pioneer Human Services has been nationally recognized as a model social enterprise.Â Since it's founding in 1963, it has served over 100,000 people through an integrated array of services including housing, employment, training, treatment, counseling, and re-entry services.Â Some of the people that benefit from their services are recovering from chemical dependencies; some are ex-offenders; others are homeless, but all are individuals on the margins of society.
What makes Pioneer so unique is that this nonprofit organization is capable of earning 99% of its income through the sale of its products and services. The organization services well over 5,000 individuals in correctional programs by operating residential reentry programs. The program provides inmates with training and opportunity to be successful in pursuing employment. Therefore, the mission of Pioneer Human Resource Development is to expand and deliver services to enhance a trainee or employee's marketable job skills and work performance. By providing on-the-job and state- of-the-art technical training, the individual is encouraged to become a self-supporting, positive resource for the community and to achieve successful and rewarding employment (Pioneer Human Services, 2010).
Ban the Box
"All of Us or None"
One question on job applications that ex-cons find frightening is "have you ever been
convicted of a crime?" The question then proceeds to have the applicant explain number of conviction(s), nature of offense(s) leading to conviction(s), how recently such offense(s) was/were committed, sentence(s) imposed, and type(s) of rehabilitation. A movement across the country is taking place to remove questions of criminal convictions on job applications. This is to ensure fair employment consideration for all persons. It has become very difficult for ex-offenders to obtain employment because of their previous convictions. The "X" that offenders mark in the yes part of the box has become their own personal scarlet letter. The letter defines the individual and makes others aware of their criminal past, therefore allowing for discrimination against the individual.
In an effort to assist ex-offenders with job searches, several cities throughout the United States have joined the "Ban the Box" movement. This program is designed to give all persons a fair chance at finding gainful employment. In compliance with Ban the Box, city and state officials of some areas have now removed the felony conviction question from initial government job applications. Private companies who conduct business via government contracts must also remove the question from job applications. However, this is only required in cities where Ban the Box has been adopted (Henry & Jacobs, 2007).
Work Opportunity Tax Credit
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is an employer-friendly benefit for hiring job seekers most in need of employment. Employers are given a government tax credit for each individual that is hired as an employee that falls into one of twelve classifications. The 8th classification group is Ex-felons. The program has defined the specific parameters that must be met in order to receive this tax credit for hiring ex-felons. An ex-felon tax credit new hire is defined as an "individual who was convicted of a felony and who is hired not more than one year after the conviction or release from prison." For each new adult hire an employer generally receives $2400 or more, provided certain conditions are met and the necessary paperwork is accurately and timely filed. However, about 85% of the eligible employers nationwide do not obtain this credit because many will not give any consideration towards hiring ex-felons (United States Department of Labor, 2010).
The philosophy behind WOTC is based upon the knowledge of the United States prison population. With an understanding that 750,000 felons are released each year in the United States in search of employment, it is important to provide some form of incentive for employers to hire them. Studies indicate that the recidivism rate for those who obtain employment within the first six months of their release is nearly half of those that do not. When taking into consideration the current costs of incarcerating these individuals, that translates into a savings of approximately $7 billion dollars annually for the United States taxpayer, not including the additional costs to law enforcement, prosecution and the courts. However, seeing that only 15% of employers actually obtain this tax credit is no surprise (United States Department of Labor, 2010).
A Design for Effective Offender Reentry Programs
Ex-offenders often return to their community the way they went into prison: lacking adequate education, with little or no access to labor markets, and with few or no connections to positive social support networks. They are likely to experience addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, and a myriad of other challenges that can contribute to an increased likelihood of return to criminal activity, arrest, and re-incarceration. However, in order to prevent reentry into the criminal justice system it is important to establish reentry programs that will provide the right tools for an effective reentry into society. Current research (Latessa, 2008; Office of Justice Programs, 2010; Wilson et al., 2000) has indicated a number of principles to follow in order to develop an effective reentry program. The author of this paper has dissected the various principles and will discuss those deemed as the most important for designing an effective reentry program.
Establish a Committee
The first step in designing and effective ex-offender and offender reentry program is to
establish a committee to gather support and resources in constructing ideas for a program. An important part of this principle is to have individuals on the committee that are experienced with developing programs, and individuals that will be city stakeholders. The committee's responsibilities will focus on reviewing, analyzing and selecting ideas from other reentry programs that have been successful. It is important not to "reinvent the wheel;" if something works it would be wise to use it. However, deciding what will work best is completely impacted by what the goals and objectives will be of the program (Latessa, 2008; Office of Justice Programs, 2010).
Determine Goals and Objectives
The goals and objectives of a reentry strategy should address the problems, needs, resources, and capabilities of the community. Most importantly, they should be measurable and attainable. The creation of a strategic plan that outlines the goals and objectives over a specified timeframe would be most helpful. However, it is important to give each goal and objective their own timeframe and measureable outcomes. In addition, the goals and objectives of the program will be determined by what population is going to be targeted within the program (Office of Justice Programs, 2010).
Who to target?
Utilizing the information found in the needs assessment and eligibility requirements, communities should select the population (or populations) they want or need to target. It is important to detail the characteristics of the target population and to be able to demonstrate how the interventions proposed will adequately address the risks posed to the community. In addition, there are two primary questions that should be asked in determining a target population, they are:
What are the characteristics of the ex-offender population chosen?
The ex-offender population has been incarcerated in prisons, jails, or juvenile detention
centers and can represent any of the following age groups: juvenile, youthful offender, and adult. Each population will require different needs than the other, and they also have different support systems upon release. It is therefore important to determine which population requires some needs compared to others.
What offenses are potentially eligible?
Any or all of the following offenses may have been committed by the ex-offender:
Nonviolent and serious offenses: Include drug offenses (possession and trafficking), property offenses (burglary, larceny-theft, auto theft, and arson), civil disorder offenses (gambling, DWI, commercial vice).
Violent offenses: Include criminal homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault. The locality and its representative local planning team should set the parameters for participants' eligibility, which may include either nonviolent or serious and more violent ex-offenders, subject to local determination and the background check process(Latessa, 2008; Office of Justice Programs, 2010).
Once a determination has been made of the specific population to target, the next step is to determine what needs (i.e. employment, treatment, housing, etc.) are going to be targeted to help in the reentry process
What to target?
The fourth principle is determining what factors are contributing to recidivism and rather than focusing on factors unrelated to crime. In a study conducted by Latessa (2008), he found that programs targeting single factors that contributed towards recidivism were associated with a 17% increase in recidivism. Whereas programs that targeted four or more factors were found to reduce recidivism by an average of 7%.
The reviewed programs that were discussed in this paper have shown to reduce recidivism based upon their focus of targeting multiple factors. Therefore, it is a key to focus on multiple factors in order to have a successful program and reduce the recidivism rates. However, deciding which how to target these factors can be a difficult task.
How to target?
Once understandings of the specific targets are identified, a planning committee needs to operationalize the way in which these factors will be targeted. In the R4W program the committee highlighted four pillars of focus that were to be used in order to achieve their basic goals, which led to achieving their overall goal. If one of the pillars of focus was not part of the process then the reentry of the offender into society was bound to be unsuccessful. The successful target of factors that reduce recidivism need to be measured in order to make the program a success, this can be achieved through developing and using an evaluation tool.
Develop and implement an evaluation tool.
As a reentry committee it is a must to continue to evaluate the program's effectiveness and to make any changes necessary. Evaluating a program's effectiveness can be achieved by a number of measuring tools, but for the most part, reentry programs primarily use the recidivism rates of those that have gone through the program.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the majority of services should target crime-producing factors in ex-offenders. Well designed, well-implemented programs can substantially reduce recidivism; however, the same types of programs, when poorly implemented, can actually increase recidivism and waste taxpayer dollars. Therefore, prisoner reentry programs, in particular, can have a substantial positive effect on recidivism if they follow the evidence-based principles described by previous research (Latessa, 2008; Office of Justice Programs, 2010).
This paper has reviewed the current literature of the reality of finding employment once released from prison and how employment influences recidivism. In addition, the paper briefly reviewed the current employment and education programs that are being implemented inside and outside of correctional institutions. The intent of this paper is to review the literature of recidivism and focus on the implementation of education and work programs in an effort to reduce reentry into the criminal justice system.