Jobs for the Future Highlights Policies and Practices to Support Former Prisoners Returning to Their Communities

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In its new brief, JFF outlines strategies for expanding education and employment pathways for ex-offenders and applauds upcoming pilot program expanding Pell Grant access to inmates

"With hundreds of former inmates returning to their communities each day, helping these individuals successfully reenter society must become a priority,” says Jobs for the Future Senior Vice President Maria Flynn.

As the Obama administration prepares to announce tomorrow a pilot program making federal Pell Grants available for some inmates, Jobs for the Future (JFF) applauds the effort and highlights a set of strategies to expand college and career pathways to improve the life prospects of young people and adults involved in the criminal justice system.

With more than 2 million people incarcerated on any given day in the United States, and more than 700,000 people transitioning out of state and federal correctional facilities each year, there is an urgent need to do more to help reintegrate members of this population back into their communities and become productive members of society.

January 2015 findings from the Congressional Research Service indicate that full-time employment is one of the primary predictors of success, according to the JFF brief Supporting Second Chances: Education and Employment Strategies for People Returning from Correctional Facilities. The best programs begin in prison and extend throughout the release and reintegration process, with an emphasis on work training and placement, behavioral support services, and housing assistance, the report says.

“With hundreds of former inmates returning to their communities each day, helping these individuals successfully reenter society must become a priority,” says Jobs for the Future Senior Vice President Maria Flynn. “They need access to education and occupational training to help them build careers and gain economic stability.”

JFF is a national leader in developing structured, supported pathways to middle-skill work in high-demand industries. These pathways enable youth and adults from underserved backgrounds to gain the skills and credentials they need to build careers at a fair living wage.

The JFF brief offers specific policy and program priorities to help improve the ability of former inmates to make a smooth transition by connecting them with career pathways. These include:

  •     Increasing job placement: These include career coaching and occupational training programs during and right after incarceration; Ban the Box legislation to prevent employers from rejecting ex-offenders before determining whether they are qualified for a job, and educating employers about available tax and other incentives for hiring ex-offenders
  •     Providing specialized supports: Reentry supports should address individual’s immediate needs, such as job placement assistance, housing, food, mental health services

The Obama administration’s expected announcement tomorrow of a pilot program to make federal financial aid in the form of Pell Grants available to inmates, so they can take college classes while incarcerated, is one step in the right direction. The Obama administration also issued new guidance in 2014 to clarify that students in juvenile correctional facilities can apply for Pell Grants to pay for postsecondary education.

JFF has also been working on creating and implementing pathways systems for young people transitioning from the juvenile justice system. In partnership with the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions, JFF was awarded a Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant to launch Opportunity Works, an initiative of communities implementing proven pathways to postsecondary credentials for opportunity youth, and scaling the pathways through a collective impact approach.

Several Opportunity Works sites are reaching youth involved in the justice system, including sites in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Philadelphia. At all of these sites, community-based organizations will provide comprehensive support services and case management, as well as self-efficacy, violence-prevention, and career-readiness training, as the youth work toward credentials and employment. Collaborative partners will create subsidized employment based on individuals’ career interests, promoting both career awareness and career readiness at the pivotal point of reentry and rehabilitation.

“We are excited about the chance to partner with Opportunity Works sites to develop these pathways,” says Flynn. “Our ultimate goal is to be hands-on in ensuring that youth transitioning from the juvenile justice system have the resources necessary for success. Our hope is to help them earn high school credentials that will facilitate the training they need to be a candidate for jobs that hold real labor market value.”

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Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit organization that works to ensure economic opportunity for all. We develop innovative career pathways and public policies, resulting in increased college readiness and success for students and a more skilled workforce for employers. For over 30 years, JFF has been a leader in building connections between education and work that expand opportunity and strengthen our economy. For more information, visit: http://www.jff.org

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