The Reality of Re-entry for the Ex-offender in the United States

By Lyn Wazny

People who have been convicted of a felony in the United States and are incarcerated as a result, face bleak prospects in many areas. One of the most pressing concerns is finding decent (or any) employment. There are numerous obstacles from getting a driver's license to having the right to vote. Add in other roadblocks such as the inability to find affordable housing or obtain food stamps, it is no wonder that nearly two-thirds of those released will return to prison within three years. Overall, it is a tough road ex-offenders face but there has been some positive federal programs created to assist in re-entry into the workforce.

Federal Programs

The U.S. Department of Labor created the Federal Bonding Program in 1966 to protect employers from employee theft and to encourage them to hire ex-offenders who may have an "at-risk" background. The program is free, offers a cap of $5,000 and extends for six months from the first day of employment. Approximately 40,000 applicants have obtained jobs due to being bonded and 99 percent have proven to be honest employees. To apply for this program contact one of your local workforce centers or the Federal Bonding Coordinator in your state.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit that encourages private-sector employers to provide on-the-job training and employment opportunities to nine target groups. This includes ex-offenders who have been released less than one year and have shown significant barriers to employment. WOTC can reduce an employer's federal tax liability by as much as $9,000. For more information contact your state Department of Labor and Employment.

The Second Chance Act, first-of-its-kind federal legislation passed in 2008, was designed to create opportunities for positive life outcomes for ex-offenders returning to society. The program authorizes federal grants to government agencies and non-profit organizations. It is overseen by the Council of State Governments Justice Center/The Re-Entry Policy Council. The web site for the National Reentry Resource Center has the most up-to-date information about the Second Chance Act.

According to the Resource Center: "In fiscal year 2009, $25 million was appropriated for Second Chance Act programs, including $15 million for state and local reentry demonstration projects and $10 million for grants to nonprofit organizations for mentoring and other transitional services. In fiscal year 2010, $114 million was appropriated for prisoner reentry programs in the Department of Justice, including $14 million for reentry initiatives in the Federal Bureau of Prisons and $100 million for Second Chance Act grant programs. In FY10, $108,493,000 was appropriated for prisoner reentry programs in the Department of Labor, including $15 million for a transitional jobs grant program."

This program provides employment assistance, substance abuse treatment, housing, family programming, mentoring, victim's support and other services that help reduce recidivism. For more information about the Second Chance Act go online to www.nationalreentryresourcecenter.org.

State Services

On the statewide level there are numerous agencies, organizations and programs offering services to help ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society. Here are a few in the metro Denver area.

Jefferson County Workforce Center in Golden provides a variety of services, including the Blue Book, a listing of positions in the metro Denver area that will hire ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis. 303/271-4700

Denver Works, a faith-based non-profit organization for 14 years, offers free employment services including jobseekers/former offender workshops, one-on-one client and case management, mentoring opportunities and a clothing closet providing clothing for men and women in need of interview and work attire. 303/433-0300

The Empowerment Program works with women ex-offenders. Services offered include outpatient drug/alcohol rehabilitation, mental health services, job readiness, employment program and assistance in obtaining ID. 303/320-1989

Goodwill Industries, the nation's largest non-profit provider of job-training services, offers a wide variety of services. 303/650-7700

Stop the Revolving Door is a program open to men and women, any age who have been released from state or federal prison within 60 days. Free employment, training and supportive services for ex-offenders. Offender Hotline 303/453-8674

Motherhood Program is for female ex-offenders who have parental rights for a child under 18-years-old and has an annual income of less than $75,000. It offers free employment, training and wraparound services. Statistics from a report created by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition say that 65 percent of women in prison in Colorado are mothers of children under 18. The program is funded by a grant sponsored by the Colorado Department of Human Services. 303/453-8674

The Gateway Program at Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colorado is a ground-breaking program for ex-offenders who are prospective students. The goal of the program is to reduce recidivism and provide positive outcomes by addressing professional, educational and social goals within an innovative and structured academic environment. Of the 91 students who have gone through the program only two re-offended. 303/914-6542.

While the above mentioned resources offer some help to ex-offenders, they continually face some daunting challenges to successfully reintegrate back into society. In Colorado, new legislation was passed in May 2009 to put more emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment for ex-offenders.

Readers are invited to share additional resources in the Comments section of this web site.

Lyn Wazny

Lyn Wazny is a WIA Adult Case Manager at the Jefferson County Workforce Center in Golden, Colorado. She has a BA in Journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver and has found a new calling in career development. She can be reached at lwazny@co.jefferson.co.us

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Kiby Logan   on Wednesday 09/01/2010 at 08:46 PM

Lyn: Well said! Additionally, it's great to know there are others around who keep the Offender Employment Specialists informed on programs for ex-offenders, having been in Knox County, TN., Community Corrections for eleven years as Vocational Coordinator just pror to retire ment in 2007.

Kirby Logan, MA, MC, CDFI
Retired... Ha!

Deneen Pennington   on Thursday 09/02/2010 at 04:05 PM

Check out NCDA's Defendant/Offender Workforce Development (DOWD) Conference scheduled next April 2011 in San Francisco. The information is posted under the Conference section or by visiting www.dowdconference.org. Anyone involved in offender reentry should attend this special event. Thanks Lyn and we hope to see you there!

Larry Robbin   on Thursday 09/02/2010 at 04:33 PM

I have been involved in reentry employment for over forty-five years as a direct service provider, program designer, manager, trainer and consultant. I have a free Reentry and Employment Resource list that is available to anyone that emails me. Please put Reentry Employment Resource List in the subject line.

Larry Robbin   on Thursday 09/02/2010 at 04:35 PM

Regarding my previous comment my email address is larryrobbin@aol.com.

Karen Obringer   on Friday 09/03/2010 at 09:30 AM

Thank you for this valuable information! I work at a college career center but have counseled a number of ex-offenders. It's good to know there are some resources to assist them and help answer the questions they have.

Melanie Reinersman   on Friday 09/03/2010 at 09:44 AM

Additional resources can be found under the "Corrections" Interest Areas on the NCDA website (see the top of this page, on the right side of the blue navigation bar).

John Rakis   on Tuesday 11/02/2010 at 07:32 PM

The National Institute of Corrections provides a variety of no-cost resources that are intended to help practitioners connect former offenders to careers. A brief description of several of these tools is provided below. For additional resources and information, visit NIC on the web at www.nicic.gov/owd.

Career Resource Centers An Emerging Strategy for Improving Offender Employment Outcomes. - This information-rich bulletin provides a step-by-step guide for setting up a Career Resource Center in a correctional facility, a parole or probation office, or a community-based organization. It includes a companion, multimedia DVD that contains many of the resources needed to operate an effective center. Through an easy-to-use menu that parallels the written text, you can watch videotaped interviews with practitioners, install career assessment software, and read dozens of documents related to career exploration, offender reentry, collaboration building and much more. For your no cost copy of this important bulletin, call NICs information center at 1 (800) 877-1461 and ask for item number 023066 or visit NIC on the web at http://nicic.gov/features/library/def... .

You can watch a one-minute video about the product here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYcivEkojhA

Using Labor Market Information to Promote Positive Employment Outcomes for Offenders - This instructional disk is intended to provide practitioners with a comprehensive overview of Labor Market Information (LMI) and provide them the informational tools to increase short-term and long-term employment outcomes for the offenders under their supervision. It is available at no cost from NIC:


The Online/Kiosk Employment Application Simulation Software – The product was developed to prepare offenders -- who typically do not have access to the Internet -- for completing online or kiosk-based employment applications. Information about the software and how to order or download it can be found here:


Career Resource Centers – This multi-disk set was designed to train inmate career clerks and includes a multimedia, interactive tutorial, the O*Net Career Exploration Tools, a DVD with 185 career videos in a menu driven format, the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and the Career Guide to Industries. While it was designed for prisoners, it can also be used to train staff or volunteers in community-based organizations. Information on ordering it can be found here:


Julie Wade   on Thursday 12/02/2010 at 12:26 PM

The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation helps ex-offenders who have a documented disability. Substance Abuse or Polysubstance Abuse Disorder qualifies for example and many ex-offenders have this disorder. We work with all physical and mental disabilities and can help with training and job placement. There is an OVR office that covers every county in all 50 states.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.