Employment and reintegration into the community for registered sex offenders is a daunting challenge due to victim access concerns, employment restrictions, reluctance from potential employers because of the stigma, housing and transportation problems. These are critical barriers that exacerbate finding employment. Instability in the above areas has also been correlated with recidivism. In order to secure safety and successful reintegration of sex offenders into the community, collaboration between the prison system and community partners are needed to facilitate vocational and career training to develop, improve and enhance sex offenders job skills and competencies to prepare them for reentry into society and the workforce (Center for sex offender management).
What are Perceived Barriers to Employment & Vocational Opportunities for Registered Sex Offenders?
Many offenders will be released from state and federal institutions with many challenges and barriers to come when they enter and/or reenter the workforce. The barriers will not only be at an individual level, it will be at a social, environmental, and economical level. There are limited resources available to aide in the transition of offenders, even more so for individuals who are registered sex offenders. Sustainable employment is critical to the success of an ex-offenders avoiding re-offending. Vocational guidance an assistance programs that include financial assistance and follow-up services have been shown to be very effective in not only keeping the community safe but also decreasing the numbers of offenders re-offending and improving the number of offenders finding gainful employment (Harrison & Schehr, 2004). The need for additional vocational and career training programs to develop job skills and competencies for ex-offenders is an immense necessity. There is limited research on the specific issues that ex-offenders face while attempting to reintegrate into the legitimate workforce and the lack of career development focus on the specific needs of this population (Shivy, Wu, Moon & Mann, 2007).
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Ex-offenders are generally released to the community on conditional and unconditional terms. Ex-offenders that are granted conditional terms are a form of supervision that is mandated by the courts and is managed through a probation or parole officer (Shivy, et. al. 2007). Conditional release can include restrictions and rules such as “curfews, drug testing, and the requirement to search for, obtain, and keep a job” (Shivy, et., al. 2007). McDonough & Burrell (2008) suggest the traditional approach to offender employment has been passive on the behalf of the parole/probation officers (PO). The training of PO as employment specialist has also promoted the change in the probation philosophy including physical changes in probation agencies replacing sports and general interest magazines with employment related reading materials and posters (McDonough & Burrell, 2007). Parole agencies play a critical role in the supervision of ex-prisoners and the reduction of recidivism rates (Rakis, 2005). Preliminary results of this study are promising. In addition, probation staffs are required to assess risk of sex-offenders and ex-offenders in employment. PO’s are launched in an array of different job duties that include assessing if certain jobs are suitable or not suitable not based on level of knowledge, skills, and/or interest or abilities of offenders but monitoring sex offenders and offenders in their work related activities to ensure they do not have opportunities to reoffend. These opportunities to reoffend include taking in consideration the type of job, co-workers, and location of employer, work hours and travel routes needed to get to job sites (Brown, Deakin & Spencer, 2005). There are well-funded and comprehensive programs like Accelerated Community Entry Program (ACE) aimed at preparing offenders for community reentry, successfully focusing on the many barriers faced by offenders when released however barriers such as housing, community reactions, self-support and cost threatens long-term success of programs such as ACE (Knollenberg & Martin, 2008). In addition, some conditional released programs are well-funded and have a comprehensive and focused on deterring re-offense but similar to ACE program face significant barriers in housing, community reactions (Arkowitz, Shale & Carabello, 2008). Barriers are not just limited to the sex offenders and ex-offenders but also programs that are set out to help in the process of reintegration into the community.
The termed phrase to encompass the process of inmates transitioning from correctional institutions to the community is prisoner reentry (Shivy, et. al. 2007). This construct has gained valuable curiosity with policymakers acknowledging prominent disadvantages and challenges of the reintegration process that include “substance abuse, physical and mental health, employability and workforce participation, housing and the interrelationships” among these challenges for ex-offenders (Shivy, et., al. 2007). Harrison & Schehr (2004) reported that upon release from prison ex-offenders receive “an average of $69” from the state department of correction, or between “$100-$500” from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to aid in their transition back into their communities. Although, this may seem like a substantial amount of money to help in the process but this is very minuscule to an individual who has no family or support network to depend on and to rely on this money until a job is obtained may be frightening for an ex-offender. As offenders search for legitimate work opportunities, they deal with the stigma attached to a criminal record and being a registered sex offender and legally enforced employment restrictions barring them from working in several occupations (Harrison & Schehr, 2004). In addition, most states and federal government prohibit ex-offenders from accessing public aid funds or financial assistance for school.
It appears that society continues to further punish offenders for a crime they have paid their debt to society by serving their time. However, when returning to the community the system remains to oppress and disadvantage these individuals. Invisible punishments embedded within existing policies will continue to further oppress without modifications of these policies the ability of reentry services to foster behavioral health and community reintegration is limited (Pogorselski, Wolff, Pan & Blitz, 2005). Many released inmates are forced to return to “isolated, impoverished communities” where few jobs opportunities exist (Harrison & Schehr, 2004). According to the Reentry Policy Council, ex-offenders face barriers at an individual and community level that hinders efforts to secure and maintain employment. Barriers are mainly due to ex-offenders returning to communities that have limited amount of available jobs due to the low-income, disadvantaged communities which provide few contacts to legitimate work, weak networks and contacts. In addition, the stigma of having a criminal record exacerbates employability and earning capabilities because of limited education, low skill levels and physical, mental and drug problems (Reentry Policy Council). In addition, Bergman & Chalkley (2007) address a new aspect of stigma to include “dirty work” which are tasks, jobs, or occupations that most members of society would rather not personally perform because the work, or people or setting associated with it, is viewed by society as “repugnant, revolting, or debasing.” Dirty work is potentially stigmatizing to people who either currently or formerly performed duties and are judged negatively because of the job, in which they may had only qualified for and/or met the standards due to location, education and criminal history.
Most employers are reluctant and hesitant to hire ex-offenders, especially sex offenders. There state and federal laws that prohibit individuals with certain convictions to work in certain occupations (Reentry Policy Council). Employers fear taking a risk of hiring an ex-offender since they can be held legally liable for certain crimes if committed by an employee of their own. Brown and colleagues (2005) purports that American employers are more negative about employing ex-offenders but become more positive if offenders increased their education while incarcerated compared to Britain which are fairly positive in considering individuals with criminal records depending on size and industry type. Research has suggested that there is a hierarchy of offenses, suggesting there is a greater likelihood that employers would employ offenders of some offense categories rather than others with sex offenses being the most serious and judged the must negatively by employers with employers not at all likely to employ (Brown, et.al. 2005). One of the most challenging of barriers to employment for ex-offenders is the criminal record in which they are responsible for disclosing to potential employers and offenders being cognizant that they will not be judged on experience, skills or abilities but the criminal record. Even if the offender is not honest about their criminal history, legislation allows employer’s to seek disclosure from the criminal record bureau to any convictions an employee or potential employee may have. There are common characteristics that have been identified that reduce employability which include “low literacy rate, school drop-outs, no qualifications, alcohol, drug and health problems and accommodation requirements” (Brown et. al., 2005).
Career services offered by the correctional systems throughout the United States have been vocational in nature providing skills training in prison industry jobs that can be held during incarceration which reduce operating cost of the prison by inmates supplying many of the services (Shivy, et. al., 2007). Educational training is provided to offenders to earn a general education degree. Employment training services that are provided in prisons focus on “basic career-related activities such as resume writing, interviewing, and workplace relationship skills” (Shivy, et. a., 2007). The correctional system efforts are being put into ex-offenders finding a job after release but not on the “awareness of their career interests, needs/values, and abilities” and suitability of jobs for offenders (Shivy, et. al., 2007). Correspondingly, Basile (2005) suggest that sex offenders and ex-offenders lack education and vocational skills, however, the focus need to be on treating and rehabilitating these individuals holistically at the point of entry and release to foster success in the transition into the community. Bouffard, Mackenzie & Hickman (2000) found in their examination of effectiveness of vocational education and employment programs in reducing recidivism of the adult correctional population: are vocational education programs, multi-component correctional industry programs, and community programs have been shown to work and be effective in reducing recidivism. Graffam, Shinkfield, Lavelle & McPherson (2004) conducted a study examining six domains influencing reintegration of ex-offenders including personal conditions, justice system, rehabilitation and counseling support, and employment and training support. Participants were asked to identify variables within each domain that affect success or failure of offenders in making a positive life transition. The results identified variables included a readiness to change, achieving stable housing and obtaining employment, avoiding illegal activity and complying with mandatory reporting, remaining free of dependency, and addressing basic education and training needs. Shivy and colleagues (2007) found similar results, that the role of social networks was very important to ex-offenders. Suggesting that finding and keeping a supportive social network is highly correlated with ex-offenders finding and keeping a job and the possibility of the workplace offering opportunities for social support network. Many ex-offenders may lack social skills and confidence may also approach social situations with considerable amount of anxiety coupled with the impact of the stigma associated with being an ex-offender.
The environmental factors that ex-offenders are encountering such as limited job opportunities are addressed in Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). This theory acknowledges that career development can be made difficult by environmental influences such as differential socialization processes and opportunities as well as internalization of these influences (Chartrand & Rose, 1996). It is important to understand some ex-offenders may have confidence in their own ability to accomplish a career task but believe that their efforts will not be rewarded because of external forces such as discrimination. SCCT purports that when opportunities are limited, the direct effects of self-efficacy and outcome beliefs on choice actions will be stronger than their indirect effects through interests and goals (Chartrand & Rose, 1996). When working with ex-offenders the need to understand their beliefs about opportunities may be primary and interest exploration and goal setting is secondary (Chartrand & Rose, 1996). Chartrand & Rose (1996) suggest that the impact of sociocultural and economic factors is important but it is imperative that counselors are cognizant that at-risk populations view work as a source of income rather than a source of self-realization. However, professionals should be careful to not over generalize or assume that these individuals experiencing many barriers and hardships “;do not want or need career development services” the “demand for immediate employment is primary” but work experience serves “as a source of positive identity and stepping stones to future career opportunities” (Chartran & Rose, 1996).
The offender population has not been highly considered by the counseling profession in the “design and the delivery of career development interventions (Shivy, et. al. 2007). The expertise of counseling psychologist in career development and transition in personal and work related adjustment appears to be a good fit to tap into work with the diverse ex-offender population (Shivy and colleagues, 2007).
50 male registered sex offenders from each state will be recruited from National Probation offices across the United States. All males will be 18 years of age and up of all ethnicities. All males will be convicted of a state sex crime including individuals that have assaulted children and adults. The registered sex offenders will be on parole/probation and being supervised while living in the community. All participants will have been released from prison/jail for 6 months and have not violated and/or reoffended since their release date. Participation in this study will fully be voluntary and will be explained that participation in this study will not in any shape or form help with any court dates, sentencing and/or leniency in their current parole/probation.
All registered sex offenders will complete a demographic information sheet which will include questions about age, race, education, sex offense, current and past employment and etc. Participants will be interviewed utilizing a semi-structured interview that will ask questions about their experience, barriers to work and their vocational opportunities, attitudes and perceptions of employment. In addition, questions about self-efficacy, interest, abilities, health and disabilities. All interviews will be tape recorded.
Participants will be contacted by principle researcher to invite sex offenders to participate in study. All information of sex offenders will be provided by participating probation officers and agencies. The study will fully be explained to all offenders, where the offenders will agree or disagree to participate in the study. Researcher will then schedule a time to meet or be contacted via phone. All informed consent forms will be completed before any participation in the study. For individuals who opt for the phone contact interview, informed consent will need to be mailed or faxed before scheduled appointment.
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The interviews will last between 45 to 60 minutes each. The interviews will be conducted on a semi-structured basis and will be recorded. The purpose and goal of this study will be clearly explained. All interviews will be transcribed by trained research assistants. All assistants will be trained on administering semi-structured interviews, demographic information sheet and trained on transcribing. Each state will have 10 trained student research assistants that will recruit and administer interviews over a timeline of 1 to 3 years. In addition, all research assistants will be trained on qualitative research and coding. Each site will transcribe interviews and code interviews for developing themes and patterns. Each site will have a lead researcher/investigator that will oversee each research site. After all data has been collected, coded and transcribed lead researchers will meet and collaborate with fellow lead researchers from other recruitment sites across the country. Lead researchers will meet to examine data and develop final themes and patterns of data where inter-rater reliability can be conducted to confirm themes and patterns for manuscript writing.
The analysis to be utilized for this qualitative study will be
Phenomenological/hermeneutics approach. This approach was selected based on the descriptive, interpretative nature of this study setting out to understand the perceived barriers of registered sex offenders in their journey to reintegrate back into the community and workforce and create meaning of the these lived experiences of sex offenders through semi-structured interviews (Ryan, Coughlan & Cronin, 2007).
Initially, the data will be openly read without focusing on the research question in order to understand the participant’s expression and meaning in the broadest context. Secondly, researchers will differentiate the parts of the description “meaning units.” Themes will be identified to organize the data. Attitude is a big component in the phenomenological approach; attitude will be expected to be considered for all research assistants participating in the data analysis (Wertz, 2005). Attitude will assist research assistants in fully submerging themselves in the written description for reflection on meaning and experiential processes (Ryan et. al. 2007). Through examination of the transcribed interviews, research assistants will be able to look for features that can be identified as general, to verify the broader applicability of the insight and knowledge from interview to interview. This process will render “common meaning, general constituents, themes, psychological processes and organizational features” (Ryan, et. al. 2007).
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