Mass incarceration has been identified as one of the biggest challenges facing the United States in the 21st century. This problem affects both the incarcerated individuals and the communities in which they live. More than 2.3 million Americans are currently in the federal prison system. The lack of trust in the justice system to rehabilitate inmates has negatively affected these people, their families, and their community.

Most prisoners are released back into the public with little to no resources to aid them in their attempt to reenter the outside world and rebuild their lives and careers. A felony record has almost always been a career death sentence for a felon after being released from prison. However, reentry assistance programs have become more readily available as criminal justice reform has become an important topic of discussion in our society and our government. This article provides resources and information about reentry assistance programs, what reentry entails, different work programs and education assistance programs, and other resources for formerly incarcerated people.

Where to Find Nearby Reentry Assistance Programs

It is challenging for individuals to find work after they get out of prison. Employers have difficulty hiring people with criminal records attached to their names, especially if it includes certain convictions or crimes. However, despite their crimes and serving time in the justice system, these individuals deserve an opportunity to earn a living and start their lives over. This is called “reentry,” and there are programs to help people with the process of finding employment. There are three phases of reentry. They are:

  • Preparation – Prisoners are equipped with the skills, education, and resources they need to make a successful transition back to the outside world while still incarcerated.
  • Transition – This phase includes ex-prisoners receiving safe housing, food, clothing, and other key factors from volunteers or programs to help with the transition.
  • Stabilization – The final phase of reentry is the ex-prisoner creating beneficial personal habits, healthy personal relationships, and growth in the outside world.

Here are some ways to find these resources:

Search for State or Local Resources via the Internet

If you are a former convict looking for reentry programs, utilizing the internet at your local library can help you locate local programs or resources offered by the state you reside in. Most libraries offer free internet usage and access and other tools necessary for searching for these resources.

National Reentry Resource Center

The National Reentry Resource Center is funded and administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. It is the nation’s primary source of information and guidance in reentry. They develop resources and tools that assist jurisdictions in implementing evidence-based, data-driven strategies to help job seekers after their release from prison.

U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Justice Programs

The U.S. Department of Justice offers a helpful list of reentry programs and resources for former convicts, including resources for incarcerated youth and juveniles, incarcerated veterans, and more. The DOJ provides resources that include training and transition programs as well. The DOJ offers more national resource programs and features resources for finding local and state programs to fuel a successful reentry.

Who helps formerly incarcerated people with successful reentry?

The people who help formerly incarcerated people with successful reentry are onsite counselors in prison, social workers, and caseworkers. Former inmates can also be an excellent resource for inmates looking for a life after prison, as they have experience finding a new life and gainful employment after their time in prison. Social workers can help inmates with things like finding housing and employment after incarceration, as they help current inmates thoroughly understand their options while they are still in prison. Onsite counselors help inmates with understanding their barriers to employment, educational opportunities, job training, finding resources for a halfway house, and other safe housing options.

Additionally, vocational rehabilitation counselors are a great resource for some formerly incarcerated folks. Vocational rehabilitation services are geared toward individuals with disabilities and nearly 29% of federal inmates have reported disabilities.

Federal Programs for Formerly-Incarcerated People

In this section, you will find a detailed breakdown of several federal programs and opportunities that are aimed at helping formerly incarcerated people find jobs after prison release. These include the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, the Federal Bonding Program, and the Fair Chance Pledge. All of these programs can be beneficial to both employers and formerly incarcerated job seekers. Also, it’s helpful for you to educate yourself about these programs as you may find yourself needing to educate a potential employer about the financial benefits.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is Beneficial for Employers Hiring Ex-Incarcerated People

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a business credit provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Labor (DOL). This credit is for businesses that hire and pay wages to certain individuals who are certified by a designated local agency as being a member of a targeted group. Formerly incarcerated people and ex-felons are part of the list of targeted individuals, and if an employer hires an individual in this group, they are eligible for the WOTC. However, to qualify for this credit, the individual must work at least 400 hours of service for the employer and be in the first year of their employment. Generally, the WOTC is equal to 40% of up to $6,000 in wages paid to this individual. The WOTC is a way for the government to incentivize hiring job seekers with a felony record or a criminal background who have been incarcerated.

The Federal Bonding Program offers Incentives for High-Risk Job Seekers

The Federal Bonding Program is a government program developed in 1966 by the Department of Labor to provide fidelity bonds for “at-risk” and job seekers that have been designated as “hard-to-place.” The program assists both employers and formerly-incarcerated job seekers. The program helps employers by giving them peace of mind by bonding candidates that are considered high-risk. These bonds are provided free of charge and carry a deductible of zero dollars, meaning there is no out-of-pocket cost for employers. The program helps job seekers by offering fidelity bonding to them for the first six months of their employment. This is a great program for individuals that are at higher risk and facing serious employment barriers.

The Fair Chance Business Pledge & Fair Chance Employers help Formerly-Incarcerated People Get a Fresh Start

The Fair Chance Pledge was an initiative that President Barack Obama promoted in an effort to push progress on criminal justice system reform in the United States. In 2015, President Obama highlighted the importance of reducing barriers that incarcerated people face when trying to get their lives back on track once they exit the system. The White House issued a challenge to businesses in the country to take on the Fair Chance Business Pledge, a call to action for the private sector to improve their communities by eliminating barriers for individuals with a criminal record and creating an opportunity for a second chance. Large companies like Google, Facebook, and American Airlines have taken up this pledge, which has proven beneficial to both employees and employers. Research other companies who have taken the pledge; Honest Jobs is a great place to start; the job board features opportunities across the United States who actually hire Fair Chance candidates.

FAQs on Attending College or Trade School After Incarceration

In this section, you will find some common and frequently asked questions about attending college, returning to college, or attending a trade school after incarceration. These questions will include information about financial aid, how to get started in college after prison, and if trade schools are a viable option for people with a criminal background.

Do trade schools accept felons and formerly incarcerated people?-

Yes, trade schools and vocational colleges will typically accept enrollees that have a criminal record, and most programs will accept felons and ex-felons. This means that you should always do thorough research about the policies for hiring and other potential barriers that exist for certifications or licensing in the state you want to work in. While you may be able to attend the trade school, you may not be eligible to obtain a working license or certification in your state. So, despite graduating from your respective program and getting a degree or certificate, you could be prevented from working in the industry of your choice due to specific barriers in the state.

Do I qualify for financial aid if I was formerly incarcerated?-

According to Federal Student Aid, an individual who has been incarcerated is indeed eligible for financial aid once they are released. You can apply for financial assistance before release to avoid delays in receiving support when school starts. Even if the individual is not eligible for federal student aid, there is the opportunity for assistance from the state or the school they choose. You are still eligible for financial aid if you are on probation or parole. A formerly incarcerated person is not qualified for aid only when they have been convicted of a forcible or nonforcible sexual offense.

Do I have to wait to be released to start attending college?-

No, you don't have to wait to be released from prison to start a post-secondary education program. However, studies have shown that very few inmates finish these programs while they are incarcerated. Only two percent of inmates completed an associate degree, and only seven percent completed a certificate from a college or trade school while still in prison. While the prison system supports education opportunities and job training for incarcerated people, it has been shown that it is better to wait until after their prison release to continue their education, as they will generally have a more structured support system around them than in prison.

How to Get Job-Ready While Incarcerated or On Parole

Despite being incarcerated, people getting ready for release can still prepare ahead of time for work after their release. One of the biggest barriers many ex-convicts face upon release is secure, safe housing, reliable transportation, and clothing. It is important to focus on securing those first, as they can impede and impact one’s ability to attend school or work, or even a job interview.

Finding a job or career post-incarceration can be difficult because you will have a target on your back for committing criminal activity. However, there are ways to remain job-ready while you’re incarcerated or on parole. Educating yourself on your rights as a worker, as well as finding hiring programs and resources, can help you get on a fast track to finding a job after your release. All federal prisons offer literacy classes and English as Second Language classes, as well as continuing education courses, employment services, and library services. They can also provide vocational and occupational on-the-job training for inmates looking to work in the trade sector and training for low-skill jobs. There are so many opportunities for upward mobility for inmates to prepare themselves for life after incarceration and not come out of the prison system completely unaware of how to find a job and restart their lives.

Some of the ways you can prepare for finding work after your release or while you’re on parole are writing a resume, starting a job search, gathering information for job applications, looking at available jobs, finding employment with Fair Chance Employers, and finding a way for reliable transportation in the city you’re looking for work in, including public transportation options.

Essential Resume Items for Formerly Incarcerated People

When you’re a formerly incarcerated person looking for work after release, your resume can be one of the most significant barriers to reentry into the workforce. A strong resume is crucial to finding work after your release. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most essential resume items to include so you can find work after prison.

Contact Information

The top of a resume has your name and contact information. If you are unsure where you will reside, at least include a phone number, as soon as you have secured a phone, and an email address. You can create an email address while in prison.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Being open and honest about your criminal background is something that has been debated when it comes to ex-felons and formerly incarcerated people looking for work. Being honest with potential employers can be beneficial, as it shows you have nothing to hide about your past. Do not falsify any information or hide these facts, as they will eventually come up if the employer performs a background check, which is very likely if they see you as a viable candidate. At some point you will need to disclose, but you do not need to on your resume. However, depending on how long you served and what you did while serving, you may need to include some information. For example, if you served two years but, before that, you earned a degree or held a steady job, you might be able to leave things there. Yes, you will have an employment gap, but so do lots of people for lots of reasons.

Use a Reverse Timeline

If you have spent time since your release doing things like volunteer work, having stable employment with another employer, or earning a degree, make sure to highlight those aspects on your resume first and foremost. As with any resume, start with your most recent working experience and work your way backward. This allows you to focus on the present rather than the past.

Highlight any Experience or Skills Learned in Prison

If you were able to gain any relevant experience or skills while in prison, make sure you highlight those in your resume. It’s important to remember that when you do this, list the location of the prison as “County of ____” or “State of ____” as the employer and then explain the context if the employer asks.

Tips for Getting Hired

Now that we’ve covered essential resume items, let’s look at some helpful tips to help formerly incarcerated people get hired after their release from the prison system.

  • Understand Your Background – Most jobs will run a criminal background check on a job candidate as a regular part of the hiring and application process. As a formerly incarcerated person, it’s important to understand what may show up on the background check. Knowing what the employer will see gives the applicant an advantage to give context to anything that might appear on the report.
  • Build Your Education – Continuing your education after your release from prison is one of the best ways to help your case in getting hired. Obtaining a degree or certificate from a training program can help your chances of finding a good job, despite your past criminal activity. Educational attainment is one of the best ways to help your job search.
  • Have a Good Attitude – It’s very important to understand that there are people in the professional world that have not been through the things you have been through as an incarcerated individual. Keeping a positive attitude with a potential employer can help them see that despite being detained, you are dedicated to your reentry process and changing your life for the better.

Financial Aid Resources for People With Criminal Records

In this section, you will find excellent resources for obtaining financial aid as a person with a criminal record. These financial aid resources can help pay for continuing education, housing, and more. You will find links attached to easily navigate you to the resource and start your application process.

Use the FAFSA Service from Federal Student Aid to see your eligibility for federal student financial aid

When applying for education opportunities, one of the first places to look is the Federal Student Aid website, better known as FAFSA. FAFSA is an essential part of the education planning process, and Federal Student Aid will offer solutions for paying for college or career schools. They offer student loans, multiple forms of grants, and scholarships, including ones for formerly incarcerated individuals. The process is fairly simple and allows you to send information to multiple institutions so you can see what your options are to pay for your education. You can apply for federal student financial aid on their website, located here.

The Second Chance Pell Grant is gaining popularity among American institutions

The Second Chance Pell Grant program is still growing and will be available in 130 colleges in 42 states. Announced in 2015 as an experimental program, the Second Chance Pell Grant gives eligible incarcerated people access to the Pell Grant to pursue higher education while still in prison. This program allows prisoners to gain more skills and value in the workforce by being able to afford and obtain bachelor’s degrees from legitimate universities and colleges. As the program aims to keep expanding their eligibility in 2023, it will be a fantastic opportunity for those looking to pave their way to a new career once they are outside prison.

The Department of Labor offers educational grants through the ETA

The Department of Labor has several educational grant programs through the Employment and Training Administration for formerly incarcerated people and people with criminal records. These loans will cover many items like housing, transportation, and more. The Department of Labor is one of the government agencies that help people once they gain their release from prison. They also offer grants to those still currently incarcerated, giving them options to start building their new life before their prison release. The applications are easy to fill out, and multiple different grants can be found on this website, and the Department of Labor website, located here.

Other Resources for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

This section provides a detailed overview of other resources that are available to formerly incarcerated individuals. These resources offer programs that help with life after prison, finding employment with a felony record, family assistance for those that have a direct relationship with an incarcerated person, skills workshops, education, and more.

There are countless organizations, private and public that focus on providing assistance and support to individuals who have been incarcerated. From Goodwill to Help for Felons, Department of Labor and Restoration of Rights Project to name a few. These organizations provide support with job readiness, training, job search, interviewing skills, resume writing, amongst other services.

Miles of Freedom offers a comprehensive reentry program

The foundation Miles of Freedom aims to equip, empower, and employ individuals who are returning from prison. Support and assistance are provided to families and communities affected by incarceration. Their reentry program includes training in financial literacy, resume building, interview preparation, and dress and life skills. Through their partners, they assist in the search for employment and placement. The program focuses on three key elements: Case Management Services, Job Readiness Workshop, and the Transition to Employment Training. Miles of Freedom was founded by a formerly incarcerated individual, Richard Miles. You can find their website located here.

Refoundry offers an opportunity to learn crucial skills and become a job creator

Refoundry is an organization whose mission is to provide justice-involved and formerly incarcerated people with the skills and opportunities to achieve financial independence and become leaders and job creators in their communities. They offer training and education to formerly incarcerated people to repurpose discarded materials into home furnishings while offering mentorship into creating their own business or career path to economic stability. They provide a healthy curriculum that includes mental health, addiction referrals, resume building, interview skills, business coaching, finance, and more. Their website can be found here.

The Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement aims to transform the criminal legal system while helping those that have been affected

The Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement (FICPFM) is a network of over 50 human and civil rights organizations led by people with a felony conviction or a history of criminal activity and their family members. As part of their mission, they are committed to changing the criminal justice system to transform society. They advocate legislatively, judicially, and through organizing in their communities. In addition to providing housing, food, and employment assistance to persons with felony convictions, they also offer support for their families during these trying times. Their website can be found here.

The National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated serves the state of Illinois and communities of those affected by mass incarceration

The National Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated is a community-based organization that serves the state of Illinois in conjunction with the FICPFM. They pair formerly incarcerated individuals with trained mentors who provide one-on-one mentoring, counseling, life skills workshops, leadership development training, and support. Their program also provides:

  • Conflict resolution skills training
  • Weekly reentry support groups
  • Anger and trauma management
  • Legal support
  • Recidivism prevention training

They aim to support these individuals with criminal convictions to achieve their employment, educational, and personal goals after prison release. You can find a link to their website here.

Truth Be Told provides transformational programs to women who have been previously convicted and incarcerated

Truth Be Told is an organization whose mission is to provide specialized trauma-responsive programs for women who are or have been incarcerated. Their programs help promote healing and empowerment for these women and break the cycle of incarceration for them, their families, and their communities. Their programs help teach important transformational skills like community building, communication, creativity, and self-care. They offer virtual programs and group sessions inside of prisons with formerly incarcerated women being facilitators for these programs. They offer six different crucial programs, with one lasting sixteen weeks, which helps deal with overcoming past trauma. Their website can be found here.

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