Getting a job or career after incarceration is an important goal. But according to the Prison Policy Initiative, unemployment for formerly incarcerated people has remained between 60-65% since the study began in 2010. Discrimination against hiring people who have spent time incarcerated is a significant reason for this. Another reason is, returning citizens can feel like they won't find work, so they don't try, adding to the high unemployment rate. Fortunately, awareness and advocacy of the benefits and need for returning citizens to find employment is rising. Though some employers and colleges discriminate against people returning from incarceration, many do not. Every year, more resources are available to help navigate work or a career. Advocacy groups, such as Second Chance Hiring, encourage employers to hire previously incarcerated returning citizens. According to the U.S. Chamber of Congress, Brands like Home Depot, Walmart, and Starbucks have updated hiring practices to include people with criminal records.
Ban the Box is a job advocacy movement for returning citizens across the USA. Their initial goal is to remove any questions about criminal history and delay background checks until after hire, giving all applicants the same shot at a job without the stigma of having served time. Many states have implemented anti-discrimination laws, meaning employers or colleges can no longer ask if you have a felony history. So far, thirty-seven states support this policy change, increasing public awareness and encouraging policy reform. View different state rulings at Zippia.com to see how some states do or don't support reentry. If you live in an area with solid biases against previously incarcerated people, consider relocating to an area with more support.
Don't let your past discourage you from a future. You can create a path to success with the proper guidance and willingness to persevere.
Where to Start
When seeking a career, employment, or the education to get there, "knowing thyself" is a great place to start. Knowing your skills, abilities, and limitations can guide you toward an appropriate job or career.
Many people struggle with reading, writing, and math skills, inhibiting their motivation to find work or pursue a career. According to the U.S. Dept of Education, more than 40 million people over eighteen in the United States have academic skills below a sixth-grade level. Websites like We Can All Read can help, along with programs, tutors, and instructional videos found online that teach basic academic skills.
If you have a disability, you might require a specific learning approach to support your endeavors. Contact your Doctor, Social Worker or Guidance Counselor; they can guide you toward support.
A high school or General Education Diploma (GED) will get you into college. Many high schools and community colleges offer GED programs for adults. Contact a local high school or community college and ask about available programs in the community. Penn Foster (see below) offers an online high school diploma program for those in need.
If you are looking for a career, consider college. Many colleges have an open-door policy accepting students with a history of incarceration. The Admission Counselor will offer advice on enrolling. Schedule an appointment with the Guidance Counselor to get more information. They assess skill levels and discuss options available.
A person currently incarcerated can also attend college. Many colleges have Prison Education Programs to gain skills that support success once released. In 2020, The (USA) Department of Education lifted a 26-year ban on Pell Grants for offenders. Take advantage of this ruling!
Trades and On-the-Job Training
A Trade or Technical School is also an option. Trade and technical schools teach the skills for a particular field of work. Some programs offer paid apprenticeships, and some jobs provide paid training. The Path to Pro trade program provides skills and training for trade jobs. There are many other trade schools available online. According to Felony Record Hub, most trade schools will accept you, even if they ask if you have a history of incarceration.
Some people are entrepreneurs and want to create a business. If you have a business plan, take it to a business consultant before investing more energy. If you are part of a business, participate in continuing education and learning opportunities. A business entails dedication and financial stability, growth, and professional advice. Many factors can make or break a business. Investing time and money into a project without careful planning can be disastrous. Falling further into debt is common for companies built on dreams instead of facts. Business is possible with a plausible plan and support.
Job-Oriented Adult Education
Many adult education programs offer classes to support getting a job or pursuing a career. Business, career-ready, and life-skill classes and programs are available. Look online, or call a local Dept of Social Services, high school, college, YMCA/YWCA, or a local newspaper to get information.
Be open to a job that does not fit long-term goals but will bring stability. There are plenty of businesses that need workers. Consider the immediate objectives, and continue to plan the next steps for your future. The economy needs workers at all skill levels. The Diocese of Joliet website lists places that hire without regard to your past.
Volunteering at food banks, homeless shelters, and churches are ways to get involved in the community. Volunteering can lead to making contacts with potential employers and jobs.
Create a realistic plan for your future. Start with the self-knowledge of your situation and capabilities. Seek the support of an advisor like a college Guidance Counselor, a Therapist, or a Social Worker who can help you with hurdles and offer unbiased guidance and solutions. Be open to education, jobs, and careers that are either stepping stones or life goals. Pursue your future.
Know abilities and interests.
Seek support and guidance
Be persistent in the pursuit
Never give up.
Below is a list of websites I searched.
The websites listed are to inspire you in your pursuits.
This writer can not guarantee any results from reviewing or following advice from these websites.
We Can All Read-
Affordable Colleges -
Path to Pro-
The Diocese of Joliet- https://www.dioceseofjoliet.org/siteimages/peace/documents/Jail_and_Prison_Ministry/List_of_Felon_Friendly_Employers.pdf.
Jobs that Hire Felons-
Trade Schools -
The National Reentry Network for Returning Citizens-https://thenationalreentrynetwork.org/projects/
Inmates to Entrepreneurs-
Second Chance Hiring-
National Employment Law Project -
Prison Policy initiative -https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2022/02/08/employment/
Ban the Box -
U.S. Dept of Education-
Pell grants for felons -
Felony Record Hub-