Over 600,000 inmates are released each year, with over two-thirds of them being arrested again in the first three years of their release and almost four out of five of them being rearrested within the first five years of release (Durose et al., 2014; “Roadmap to Reentry,” 2017). In an age of mass-incarceration and high numbers of people being released from prison coupled with high percentages of formerly incarcerated people becoming repeat-offenders, it is important to discover how to stop this trend – how to help prisoners reenter society and abandon their old ways. While many aspects affect an individual’s reintegration into society, employment plays a crucial role. Therefore, having effective measures in place to aid inmates in getting jobs is crucial. The best employment-related programs to help people avoid recidivism would first and foremost make use of strong personal relationships and experienced employment services and that provide long-term support. Some additional services would also be ideal.Employment programs during reentry are important in helping formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into society and avoid recidivism. Employment aids in reentry for several reasons, including creating structure in a former inmate’s day, encouraging social interaction, and boosting self-esteem. It also provides income for a person to provide for himself and his family, which lessens the likelihood of crime (Carter 19).
Several studies support the idea that employment reduces recidivism. For example, Rossman and Roman found a correlation between reduced recidivism and working full-time (95). A study by Tripodi et al. found that employment was not statistically significant in reducing recidivism, but there was a significant correlation between having employment and spending a greater amount of time crime-free (713-714). Finally, Berg and Huebner’s study indicated that employment reduced recidivism and that if employed formerly incarcerated people were reconvicted, it took longer for them to commit another crime than it did for those that were unemployed (397). These results provide the reasoning behind the idea that helping formerly incarcerated people find employment upon release may play a big role in avoiding recidivism.Perhaps, one of the most important aspects of an employment program in reentry is good relationships and frequent contact between the former inmates and the people working with them in their process of reintegration. A study by Berg and Huebner support the case for relationships with a study that looks at the relationships between family ties, employment, and recidivism. They found that good relationships with relatives and significant others correlate with higher levels of employment and lower crime rates and rates of recidivism. In fact, former inmates with good ties to relatives had a higher employment rate and lower recidivism rate, regardless of their employment history before prison. Berg and Huebner proposed that the outcomes may be because relatives can connect formerly incarcerated people to jobs and provide motivation to find and maintain employment (398-401).
Because relationships with relatives appear to be so helpful in increased employment rates and reduced recidivism, family therapy might be a good addition to some formerly incarcerated people’s reentry programs.Unfortunately, not everyone being released from prison has such family ties. Some people have bad relationships with their relatives, and some people coming out of prison may not have any relationships with relatives. In this instance, it is especially important that the service providers working for the employment program work closely with their clients and aim to provide the motivation and guidance that family members may have provided. In Rossman and Roman’s study analyzing the Opportunity to Succeed (OPTS) program and comparing it to formerly incarcerated people working with parole officers, they found that OPTS is largely effective because of the emphasis put on the relationship between the case manager and the client. There was a positive correlation between frequent interaction with case managers and obtaining full-time jobs, and clients were more motivated to find and keep their jobs when their case managers were encouraging and followed up with them (Rossman and Roman 96). Bushway and Apel made similarly promising findings for people that lack strong family ties. They found that an intensive employment program showed no difference in the employment outcomes but that the clients did have a significantly reduced recidivism rate. Their reasoning was that the former inmates’ caseworkers’ support was what led to the reduction in recidivism (Bushway and Apel 25-26).
Therefore, if someone does not have good relationships with relatives, or has no relatives at all, upon release from prison, the service providers of a reentry program have the potential to be able to fill that role. Regardless of whether family ties are present, good relationships with the service providers are still important because it is better for a formerly incarcerated person to have too much support rather than too little. Additionally, the service providers would likely have more experience finding employment for their clients than the clients’ relatives would.Not only should service providers have good relationships with their clients by way of frequent communication and providing encouragement and motivation, but they also must provide this support on a long-term basis. One reason for this is to help former inmates maintain their initial motivation. Tripodi et al. found that employment did not reduce recidivism but at least increased the amount of time that someone stayed out of prison. He explained that employment may have had a stronger correlation with staying out of prison for a longer amount of time than with staying out of prison all together because desistance from crime is a process rather than a destination. Former inmates may be more motivated when first released from prison, and that motivation wears off over time. Tripodi et al. proposed that having a job possibly makes that motivation last longer (714-715).
Therefore, it is imperative that service providers continue to work with and motivate their clients. Working with a therapist may also help clients maintain their initial motivation or get it back when they lose it. Although the best therapeutic practices for this may be out of the scope of this paper, Tripodi et al., mentions two possibilities: motivational interviewing, which aims to develop motivation, and solution-focused brief therapy, which deals with setting goals and using one’s strengths to reach them (717). Ramakers et al.’s study also suggests that long-term support is important, but his indicates so because his findings suggest that recidivism does not depend on whether someone has a job, but rather depends on the type of job. For hourly employees in particular, job retention was an indicator of a lower likelihood of recidivism. Hourly employees who held their jobs for at least until the six-month follow up were significantly less likely to recidivate than those that did not (Ramakers et al. 1811). Ramakers et al.’s study did not look beyond six months, but Tripodi et al.’s indicates that long-term support should last for at least five years. This is because for employed formerly incarcerated people who recidivated, they ranged from 9 months to 60 months crime-free, and 60 months is five years (Tripodi et al. 713). Based on these studies, it is important that former inmates maintain their post-release employment, and employment reentry programs should help them achieve that goal.Employment programs during reentry are more helpful when they work with employment services that have experience placing formerly incarcerated people into jobs.
Case managers of OPTS said that it was generally easy to place clients into jobs even with their criminal histories because OPTS and/or their outside providers had previous contact with employers and had experience finding jobs for former inmates (Rossman and Roman 89). Studies involving programs that do not have the same connections with companies say otherwise. Bushway and Apel, for instance, found that employment programs did not increase the likelihood of having a job a few years later. They argued that one of the reasons that trying to place clients in job positions does not work is because their criminal history makes it hard to do so (Bushway and Apel 27). The analysis of OPTS, however, did find that people were more likely to be employed (Rossman and Roman 90). Since OPTS uses service providers with connections and experience, these outcomes highlight the fact that having connections and experience are important assets of employment services in reentry.There are many additional services that would also be of great help in reintegrating inmates. These include transportation, providing work clothes, and job preparation. In Rossman and Roman’s study on the OPTS program, they found that transportation was, overall, the biggest employment barrier for both OPTS clients and parolees not associated with the OPTS program. The specific issues they looked at included not having a car for work-related emergencies, having to pay a lot of money for car repairs, trouble getting a driver’s license, and public transportation problems.
As many as almost 40% of OPTS clients reported struggling with obtaining a car, and just over 40% of the parolees reported having problems getting a driver’s license. These were the highest percentages reported by either the experimental group (OPTS clients) or the control group (the parolees) for any of the aforementioned transportation-related employment barriers (Rossman and Roman 86-87). Sometimes clients did not have personal transportation, and sometimes public transportation did not link parts of the community that needed to be linked for clients to have certain jobs (Rossman and Roman 88). The location of public transportation may be hard to overcome, but clients should certainly be aided in understanding how the system works in case it is a good option for them.Having business attire for job interviews and work was also one of the more common problems, with 20.5% of OPTS clients and 18.3% of parolees reporting facing that barrier (Rossman and Roman 87). Employment programs could look to places like Goodwill to provide the clients with work clothes at a cheaper cost, or they could also start initiatives to collect used or new clothingJob preparation and assistance searching for jobs are also worthy of inclusion in an employment program. Among identifying job openings, filling out applications, and interview skills, identifying openings posed the most challenges to both groups with 18.8% of the experimental group and 16.1% of the control group struggling with it (Rossman and Roman 87). Working on these skills should be part of a former inmate’s meetings with his or her service providers.
Understandably, employment programs may not be able to offer all of these recommended additional services; however, they should strive to cover as many as they can. Transportation appears to be more important than the clothing, since it was an impediment faced by more people (Rossman and Roman 87). Additionally, if potential employees cannot make it to their job or job interview, then it does not matter if they have suitable clothing. The job preparation skills should also be included as needed because they would most likely be less costly than providing transportation and clothing.Even though some studies disagree with the idea that employment programs make a difference in former inmates’ employment and recidivism, they should still receive investment and attention. First of all, many studies, do show that they help. However, for those studies that disagree, some still suggest that such programs show promise for reducing recidivism. For example, Tripodi et al.’s study showed that employment programs may not significantly reduce recidivism but do significantly increase the amount of time the formerly incarcerated people go before they recidivate. As this study indicates, employment may help formerly incarcerated people get further along in the process of desistence (Tripodi et al. 718).
Additionally, Bush and Apel indicated that employment programs may have advantages that people do not usually think about. Their idea was related to the signaling theory of labor economics. This is when a potential employee acquires an observable attribute that communicates something he believes about himself. For example, job applicants may know that they are intelligent, hard-working, and productive, but this cannot be seen by the employer without a signal. In this case, a college degree, especially from a credible and prestigious institute, would act as the signal to the employer that the applicant is the things that he believes he is. In the case of employment programs during reentry, voluntarily going through a program could act as a signal to an employer that a formerly incarcerated person is dedicated and has desisted from crime (Bushway and Apel 30-38). This idea suggests that, in some cases, employment programs should be voluntary in order to give formerly incarcerated people the chance to show employers that they are good job candidates. It also suggests that employment programs warrant investment and further investigation even though some studies say they do not work.In conclusion, relationships are very important in finding and maintaining employment during reentry. Additionally, formerly incarcerated people should receive long-term support, and there are also many extra services that would be helpful. Every aspect of an employment reentry program should be designed to work together to help the clients find and keep their jobs, as employment can play a big role in desistance from crime.
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