Supporting Second Chances

Supporting Second Chances

Providing Education and Training for Young People and Adults with Criminal Histories to Prepare them for Careers

Partnering with employers and service providers to create pathways to education and employment for youth and adults returning from incarceration, to reduce recidivism.

Lucretia Murphy
Senior Director

The figures can be hard to fathom; the faces easy to forget. More than 2 million people are incarcerated on any given day in the United States. Our country has the highest per capita prison rate in the world, around 720 people per 100,000 locked in state and federal prisons, local jails, and youth correctional facilities. There are many reasons we need to pay more attention to this population. One of the most important is this: Nearly all inmates eventually return to their communities

  • More than 95 percent of today’s prison population will be released at some point.
  • More than 700,000 people transition out of state and federal correctional facilities each year.

Full-time employment is one of the biggest predictors of successful reentry, but too many people who have been or are incarcerated do not have the skills or credentials they need to get good jobs.

Jobs for the Future works with partners across the country to develop education and training programs to prepare returning citizens for good jobs.

We are committed to ensuring that education and employment opportunities are available to justice-involved youth and adults.

Investing in people who have criminal histories is an investment in our country’s future—this is a population with talents that we cannot afford to lose. Read stories of people starting over after incarceration.

People returning from prison face major barriers to finding work—and not just the common bias against hiring anyone who has been convicted of a crime. As a group, these youth and adults lack critical characteristics of career success; they have lower education and skill levels than the general population and few are trained for specific occupations. Here are some of the facts:

  • The average state prisoner has a tenth-grade education.
  • About 70 percent of state prisoners have not completed high school.
  • Less than half of youth in juvenile facilities have a diploma or GED.

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

Research consistently finds that employment is the key to decreasing recidivism and promoting economic mobility for returning citizens, but employers are often reluctant to hire people with criminal backgrounds. There are employers of every size who hire returning citizens, and JFF works to expand this pool of employers.

JFF engages employers and other stakeholders in four primary ways:
  1. Raise awareness and provide information. Illustrate the return on investment in supporting this untapped talent pool, spread lessons from employer champions already doing this work.
  2. Foster partnerships. Acclimate employers to the idea of hiring returning citizens, and create partnerships to deliver education and training.
  3. Provide technical assistance. Offer direct support in implementing reentry pathways programs.
  4. Design policy solutions. Work with state and federal policymakers to raise awareness about policies that promote effective reentry for young people and adults.

Building on JFF’s expertise on career pathways, we have been developing reentry education and training models with national, regional, and local partners. JFF is currently engaged in several initiatives serving people with criminal records:

Providing technical assistance for Improved Reentry Education (IRE). Through IRE, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) awarded $8 million (over 3 years) to 9 communities to support educational attainment and reentry success for incarcerated individuals. As the Department’s technical assistance provider, JFF is working to build an evidence base on effective reentry education programs. 

Supporting the Juvenile Reentry Education Initiative. JFF is providing technical assistance to the DOE juvenile reentry education grants under a federal contract.

Training returning citizens as part of the Economic Opportunity project. JFF is collaborating with the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) to help young people recently released from incarceration gain the necessary work experience, skills, and confidence to find and retain employment. Under a $4 million U.S. Department of Labor grant, JFF will provide technical assistance, applying our proven education and training approaches for preparing individuals with low reading and math skills to earn marketable credentials.

Working with partners to adapt effective models. JFF works with communities participating in Annie E. Casey LEAP, Opportunity Works, an Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund to develop back on track models and collaborative community solutions to improve education credential attainment and overall well-being for opportunity youth with systems (juvenile justice and foster care) involvement.

Advancing policy. We have developed a policy framework identifying postsecondary policy barriers facing individuals returning from incarceration or with past criminal history.