Public Interest

Boosting Employment Opportunities for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals: Current Initiatives and Supportive Measures
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Efforts are underway to address the challenges formerly incarcerated individuals face in finding and maintaining employment. According to economist and criminologist Shawn D. Bushway from the RAND Corp, an estimated 64% of unemployed men have been arrested, and 46% have been convicted. These statistics highlight this population’s significant barriers in their job search and overall career success.

Bushway’s research reveals that individuals with criminal history records earn significantly less than their counterparts without such records, making it increasingly difficult for them to achieve middle-class status. The implications of this wage disparity extend beyond economic consequences, affecting social mobility and the ability to reintegrate into society effectively.

Recognizing the need for support in reentry programs, the Biden administration announced in April 2022 that the Department of Justice and the Department of Labor would invest $145 million in job training and reentry services for federal prisoners through 2023. This investment aims to equip former prisoners with the necessary skills and resources to secure employment and establish a stable foundation for their post-incarceration lives.


Nonprofit organizations are also actively involved in helping formerly incarcerated individuals reintegrate into society and find employment. One such organization is Persevere, based in Salt Lake City and operating in six states. Persevere has trained over 1,400 former prisoners as full stack web developers, providing them with valuable skills sought after in the job market. Additionally, the organization offers wraparound services, including mentorship, transportation assistance, and temporary housing, to address the various needs of program participants.

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Persevere says their program’s success is evident in the outcomes achieved by their participants. They report that recidivism rates among those who complete the program are in the single digits, significantly lower than the average rates. Moreover, 93% of program graduates are successfully placed in jobs, and 85% retain employment for at least a year. These statistics demonstrate the positive impact that targeted training and comprehensive support can have on the employment outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals.

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Another organization making strides in this field is Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), which aims to restore formerly incarcerated individuals to full participation in their communities. Led by individuals directly impacted by the criminal justice system, EXPO advocates for increased support and opportunities through engagement with local and state governments. The organization, originally founded in Madison, Wisconsin, has expanded to include several chapters across the state.

Dant’e Cottingham, who was previously incarcerated, now works full-time with EXPO to help individuals with criminal records secure jobs at local businesses. Cottingham emphasizes the importance of persistence in facing the barriers that exist. While encountering some closed doors, he continues to engage in discussions, set up meetings, and advocate for job opportunities for this population. Cottingham’s dedication exemplifies the ongoing efforts to break down barriers and create pathways to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Addressing the employment challenges formerly incarcerated individuals face is crucial for their successful reintegration into society. By investing in job training, reentry services, and comprehensive support, governments, nonprofits, and community organizations are making significant strides in creating opportunities and reducing recidivism rates. These efforts not only benefit the individuals involved but also contribute to safer communities and a more inclusive society that recognizes the potential for growth and change in every individual, regardless of their past.

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