Offender Workforce Development: The Past, Present, and Future

By Imants Jaunarajs

The Past

In 2008, Stephen Sisco wrote in in Career Convergence that the federal government, state, and local agencies were actively partnering to reduce recidivism rates. One effort that was implemented over the past decade by the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) was the Offender Workforce Development Program (OWDP). One of the primary goals of the program is to educate and assist corrections professionals to provide specific career development services to ex-offenders. Employment reduces recidivism and the National Institute of Corrections has aimed at being proactive in reintegrating ex-offenders into long-term employment.


The Present

Employment is still a leading factor in recidivism for ex-offenders. Research indicates that an estimated 54% of offenders return to prison without full-time employment, compared to 14% who are employed full-time. The most widely noted successful reintegration efforts have been a result of collaborative efforts from a variety of agencies and individuals. As an example, the Missouri Career Center teamed up with Families and Communities Together, and the Missouri Reentry Process to provide in-depth programing for ex-offenders. The Community Services Division of the NIC stresses this type of collaboration and seeks to:

  • Collects and disseminates information on offender employment programs.
  • Provides training for staff who provide employment services to offenders and ex-offenders.
  • Provides assistance to state and local agencies for improving job training, placement, and retention services for offenders.
  • Develops partnerships with federal, state, and local agencies to provide offender workforce development training in their home jurisdictions.

These type of partnership efforts have led to professionals who help ex-offender reintegrate into the workforce by holistically integrating life skills with core job searching skills in a community based effort. The OWDP is an example of a program instituted by NIC, which was instituted years ago that has led to effective community partnerships. NCDA has endorsed and partnered with NIC to offer the Offender Workforce Development Specialist training program, information located here - http://nicic.gov/OWD. NCDA members who work in One-Stop, non-profit agencies, local or state agencies, private practice can benefit from the OWDS training program for an individual skill acquisition perspective, but also as an identification of community resources and partnerships. It is also important to note that there are benefits for employers seeking to hire ex-offenders; one such incentive is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The WOTC is a federal tax credit to employers who hire individuals in one of nine target areas one of which is ex-offenders.

Click here to learn more about the federal governments offender workforce development programs as well as more comprehensive resources: Offender Workforce Development Resources


The Future

There is much work to be done for career development professionals in guiding ex-offenders to successful reintegration into the workforce. New partnerships are forming across communities and more individuals are actively pursuing necessary training to work effectively with these clients. One notion that has historically been emphasized, but that continues to resurface for professionals who work with ex-offenders is “continued education”. For many ex-offenders the lack of education becomes a barrier. The importance of specific workforce training and skill development is increasingly needed for individuals, but ex-offenders who carry a perceived stigma by many employers must showcase their evolving skill sets. The importance of ex-offenders showcasing their investment in education appears to be a continuous emphasis and workforce development practitioners must be able to highlight this notion to their clients.


Imants Jaunarajs

Imants Jaunarajs, M.A., serves as the Assistant Dean for the Career & Leadership Development Center at Ohio University. Imants has a Bachelor of Arts from Earlham College and Master of Arts from Western Michigan University. In his free time, Imants enjoys coaching soccer and relaxing with family and friends. He can be reached at jaunaraj@ohio.edu


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1 Comment

Larry Robbin   on Monday 12/02/2013 at 05:32 PM

Thanks for this excellent summary. I have been consulting and training on reentry and employment for over forty years. This is a much more prevalent employment barrier than many people realize. One out of four Americans has a criminal record on file somewhere according to the National Employment Law Project. I have a free Reentry and Employment Resource List that is available by sending an email to larryrobbin@aol.com and putting Reentry Resource List in the subject line.

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