Department of Corrections: A Bridge to Employment Opportunities
1 Sep 2023
Recidivism is the tendency of a formerly incarcerated individual to engage in criminal behavior again, resulting in reincarceration. While the reasons are numerous, meaningful employment is highly correlated with low recidivism rates.
Despite a significant understanding of the role gainful employment can provide universally and in Minnesota, justice-impacted individuals face many barriers to securing employment and adapting to life outside prison walls.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) manages the incarcerated population throughout the State but also plays a major role in helping individuals reenter society. The DOC Work Release Program provides a structured transition period to prepare people for a successful, crime-free life once they return to the community. While the focus may be a path to employment, several DOC programs go deeper into the underlying causes of these barriers.
Planting the seed of gainful employment begins with opportunities during incarceration. MINNCOR Industries, located in Roseville, provides as many as 1,700 incarcerated individuals in some years with job skills training to support positive behavior and a successful transition into the community at no cost to taxpayers. Each DOC facility specializes in job skills training opportunities through relationships with businesses statewide, such as carpentry, textiles, printing, warehousing, distribution, upholstery and more. MINNCOR is 100% self-sufficient, producing the funding necessary to operate from its contracts with these businesses.
“Our programs intend to provide self-esteem for these individuals, to develop belief in themselves and their direction after prison,” said Steve Hofstead, MINNCOR Industries Bridge Program Production Supervisor.
Support toward gainful employment is necessary during and after incarceration. Initiated in 2006 under MINNCOR, the DOC EMPLOY Program provides work readiness and job search training by educating participants on tools and resources for obtaining and retaining employment. Program participants' pre-release activities focus on work readiness assessments, career interests, skills identification and job search training. Post-release services include follow-up meetings at regular intervals of up to one year with each individual to discuss job search plans, provide specific job leads and offer referrals to community partners.
On average, approximately 750 participants participated in EMPLOY each year until it was halted due to lack of funding. EMPLOY was reinstated in 2022 under the DOC Reentry Services Unit and continues to be fully funded through MINNCOR Industries.
EMPLOY’s effectiveness is quite significant, as a recent study indicated completing the program reduced reincarceration by 59%. The findings stated those who completed EMPLOY were more likely to gain employment within two years after release from prison.
Additionally, EMPLOY educates employers about the benefits of hiring justice-involved individuals and how to do so. The EMPLOY Job Developer works with employers statewide to help identify their workforce needs and the necessary skills, experience, training or certifications they require of candidates. They also discuss Fair Chance hiring practices and inform employers about the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Federal Bonding Employer Incentives.
Employers interested in hiring justice-impacted individuals must have policies and cultures to reflect and support their interest. Specifically, hiring practices should reflect the legalities around Ban the Box and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines for hiring this population, with FairChanceEmployer.com as a good resource to answer questions.
“I meet with these employers at their location to tour their facility and learn about their business while informing them about the EMPLOY Program,” said Jennifer Gast, EMPLOY Job Developer. “The difficulty is finding enough people who are releasing to their area with the skills and desire to work at their companies.”
In partnership with the Work Release Program, MINNCOR operates the “outside the walls'' Bridge Program to help work release participants successfully transition into society. The three-month program provides individuals with an introduction to jobs and work skills training to bridge the gap from corrections to employment in an environment outside of a correctional facility. Additionally, Bridge serves as a subcontracting labor resource for local Minnesota companies looking to expand their business without having the high costs of staff and space requirements.
“Bridge provides these individuals the time to prepare for their eventual release and be more successful than just getting out on their own,” said Hofstead. “Everything is done for you in prison, so this gives them time to understand how to do things themselves.”
Individuals interested in Bridge must be work release eligible and indicate interest in participating in Bridge. While assigned to one of six halfway houses around the metro area, participants work with their Work Release Agent, a case manager, and report to the Bridge facility at MINNCOR Industries, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The goal is for participants to be involved with Bridge until their standard release date. Individuals participate in three main activities in the Bridge program:
- Work skills training, including mock interviews, resume writing and general presentation to employers.
- Onsite tasks earning a modest income and bringing funding into the program.
- EMPLOY services tailored to job search and interview skills.
In a reality where employers cannot find enough qualified workers, justice-impacted individuals are an untapped resource.
“These men and women want to work and be successful in their lives after incarceration,” said JoAnn Brown, DOC Community Reentry Services Project Supervisor. “But without the support to guide them and help build confidence in presenting themselves to employers, they may not be as successful in gaining and maintaining employment as we all want them to be.”
Ramsey County Workforce Services has numerous programs aimed at helping employers find qualified workers, including justice-impacted individuals. Contact us today to learn more about Fair Opportunities, the collaboration of Ramsey County and the Workforce Innovation Board of Ramsey County with information, resources and events to help employers better understand the value of hiring individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.