By Matthew Riley
Program Specialist for MAP and Rapid Response
Mississippi Community College Board
Former President George W. Bush said, “America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.” During my time as the reentry coordinator at the Mississippi Department of Corrections, I saw firsthand that for many incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, barriers such as lower levels of educational attainment, lack of work experience, a criminal record, and extended periods of unemployment make re-entering the workforce challenging.
According to United States Bureau of Justice statistics, nearly 95% of incarcerated individuals eventually return to their communities. For returning citizens, access to education and employment opportunities are critical to their success. Studies over the last two decades have almost unanimously indicated that correctional educational programs reduce recidivism, save states money, and ensure returning citizen experience long term success by providing them with the tools and resources they need to rejoin the workforce and reintegrate into their communities.
A second chance
Apprenticeship is one such educational program. It is a viable pathway to employment for individuals both currently in and recently released from Mississippi’s correctional facilities. The basic components of apprenticeship offer incarcerated individuals the opportunity to overcome obstacles to employment, such as lack of experience or gaps in work history on their resume, through on-the-job training that provides hands-on work experience in a wide variety of industries, job-related classroom instruction, and a nationally-recognized credential that demonstrates to potential employers they can do the job. Most importantly, apprenticeships help to lay a foundation for securing employment upon release.
In addition to providing a pathway to work, apprenticeship offers societal benefits like reductions in recidivism, lower unemployment, and savings for the state. A 2013 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that participation in correctional education programs resulted in a 43 percent reduction in the odds of recidivism. A 2008 study by the Urban Institute found that employment post-release decreases the likelihood of recidivism and the same 2013 DOJ study found that individuals that participated in educational and vocational programs while incarcerated had a 13 percent greater chance of finding employment. That number increased to a 28 percent better chance of employment for those who completed vocational training.
Several state studies have shown that in helping to reduce recidivism, correctional educational opportunities help to stimulate economies and save states money. Studies in Nevada and Minnesota have shown that educational and vocational training programs lowered the numbers of re-offending individuals and helped to decrease prison populations. Lowering the number of incarcerated persons saved the states millions of dollars. Further, those who receive education and job training end up contributing more in income tax than those who do not.
A proactive approach
Upon taking office in 2012, Governor Bryant pledged to create employment opportunities for all Mississippians, including formerly incarcerated citizens. The apprenticeship model can help create these employment opportunities and benefit both returning citizens and employers alike. To build an effective program, correctional administrators, industry leaders, community colleges, faith-based organizations, and other community agencies must come together with the common goal of providing second-chance opportunities for returning citizens in our state.
With this in mind, the Mississippi Community College Board has partnered with the Assistant United States Attorney Southern District of Mississippi, the Governors’ Job Fair Network, Mississippi Department of Corrections, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to hold a Job Fair this summer at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson. This collaboration is the first of its kind in Mississippi among state agencies.
Apprenticeships offer justice-involved individuals the opportunity to gain valuable education and training that truly prepares them to participate in the labor market and succeed against some of the challenges I sought to help them overcome as they worked to rejoin their communities. Providing apprenticeships for returning citizens also offers businesses a larger pool of qualified applicants to fill the growing need for middle-skilled workers. Implementing such programs could save the state of Mississippi millions of dollars and reduce tax burdens on Mississippians. We can all stand to benefit from a second chance.
Lois M. Davis, Robert Bozick, Jennifer L. Steele, Jessica Saunders, and Jeremy N.V. Miles, “Evaluating the effectiveness of Correctional Education: a Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults,” Los Angeles: RAND Corporation, 2013. https://www.bja.gov/Publications/RAND_Correctional-Education-Meta-Analysis.pdf
Christy Visher, Sara Debus, and Jennifer Yahner, “Employment After Prison: A Longitudinal Study of Releases in Three States” (Washington: Urban Institute, 2008), available at http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/32106/411778-Employment-after-Prison-A-Longitudinal-Study-of-Releasees-in-Three-States.PDF.
Caroline Wolf Harlow, Education and Correctional Populations (Washington: U.S. Department of Justice, 2003), 4, https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf.
Grant Duwe, “An Outcome Evaluation of a Prison Work Release Program Estimating Its Effects on Recidivism, Employment, and Cost Avoidance,” Criminal Justice Policy Review 26, no. 6 (2015): 532-533 and 543-544, doi:10.1177/088740341452459.