Wilson Chairs Hearing to Examine Models to Help Justice-Involved People Find Employment
Washington, DC -- Today, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson, chair of the Education and Labor Committee’s Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee, held the third in a series of hearings on reauthorizing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to examine successful models of employment for justice-involved individuals.
“Each year, roughly 640,000 people are released from our nation’s state and federal prisons. What happens after their return determines whether or not these justice-involved individuals successfully re-enter society,” said Congresswoman Wilson. “Unfortunately, far too many are unable to take a critical step in their transition: finding and keeping a good-paying job.”
Formerly incarcerated individuals face significant challenges securing and maintaining employment. According to one study, just over half of those released from prison reported any earnings within the first year after release. One part of the challenge is related to the stigma of incarceration. Employers may be reluctant to hire justice-impacted individuals because of negative perceptions or stereotypes. In a more institutionalized manifestation of discrimination, state occupational licensing boards may have restrictions preventing applicants with criminal records from obtaining licenses to work in particular fields.
Individuals impacted by the criminal justice system also face a variety of additional barriers that can make it difficult to maintain employment, including mental health or substance abuse issues, housing, transportation, financial literacy, and difficulty obtaining drivers licenses or other forms of identification. When they cannot find good-paying jobs, it not only hurts them and their families, but also leads to higher rates of recidivism—and our nation as a whole.
“Research indicates that 83 percent of people released from prison are rearrested within nine years. This is a contributing factor to the nation’s high rate of incarceration, along with mandatory minimum sentences, long sentences for non-violent crimes, and a lack of investment in prison programs and reentry services,” the congresswoman said.
The Florida lawmaker called for smart investments in promising approaches that reduce recidivism and expand employment opportunities for justice-impacted people, such as pairing behavioral health treatment and subsidized employment services, mentorship, career navigation, and job coaching.
“Bolstering subsidized employment and vocational training can help justice-impacted individuals earn short-term income and initial employment experience. It also can help employers overcome harmful misperceptions about justice-impacted workers. Subsidized employment can be the first step toward helping individuals move on to more rewarding careers,” she added.
The reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act can enhance and expand access job opportunities so more people can get the skills and support they need, which will lead to a strong and sustained economic recovery.
“Empowering justice-involved individuals to find high-quality careers should be a bipartisan issue. It’s not only the right thing to do—it’s also the smart thing to do. Businesses benefit when there is a robust, skilled workforce ready to compete for jobs,” Congresswoman Wilson said. “With so many justice-impacted individuals looking to reenter the labor force every year, we can make progress toward addressing the worker shortage that so many employers are concerned about.”
Click here to view the hearing and read witness testimonies.