Maximize Offender Job Opportunities

Print-Friendly VersionPrint-Friendly Version


Correctional Industry (CI) programs offer a system that promotes the learning, development of skills, values, behaviors and motivation for offenders to make changes in their lives that assist them in a successful transition into the community. CI programs accomplish this through the context of work.

In an effort to take full advantage of the impact of industry programming, the maximization of offender job opportunities is critical in assisting a correctional organization with its reentry initiatives. This is accomplished using a systems approach that includes the strategic evaluation of resources and programming resulting in a comprehensive plan.

A key to sustainable growth is maximizing offender job opportunities. The process of achieving sustainable growth requires a systems’ approach including the evaluation of current operations, the identification of long term goals, and the strategies to reach those goals. 


Criminogenic risk factors encompass personal, interpersonal and environmental issues that have the potential to contribute to criminal and antisocial behavior.  Addressing criminogenic risk factors correlates to a reduction in recidivism.  As discussed in the Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies Whitepaper, by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, criminogenic risk factors such as antisocial attitudes, beliefs, peers, and personality patterns clearly affect how someone might perform in the workplace. The inability to gain and maintain employment is considered a criminogenic risk factor.

Offenders seeking to enter the job market upon release must be prepared with both technical and soft skills. Ideally, technical skills should be transferable to the current job market. Soft skills are also critical to gain and retain employment as they are behavioral in nature and include factors such as attitude, work ethic, and communication skills.

Maximizing offender job opportunities ensures a larger number of offenders are provided opportunities to learn technical and soft skills and gain experience working, thereby increasing the percent of released offenders prepared for work.

Studies show that offenders involved in CI programming have a lower rate of recidivism than those who do not participate in CI programs. The overall impact of maximizing job opportunities for offenders will be a decrease in the overall recidivism rate.

Research conducted by the Council of State Government’s Reentry Policy Council reports that reduced idleness leads to reduced tension which results in reduced violence within correctional facilities. Participation in CI programming gives offenders an incentive for good behavior and to remain free of violent infractions and actively engage in other programming opportunities.

Research by the Council also states that participants in work programs are more likely to both be employed following release and to have higher earnings than nonparticipants. Offenders working for CI have a better chance to find meaningful real-world employment, and if they are working, they are less likely to commit new crimes after release than those without CI experience. Ultimately this makes our communities safer.

Maximizing offender job opportunities in Correctional Industries programs offers benefits which may include:

  • Assisting with overall prison management through offender supervision and program participation that requires higher standards of conduct and/or education. It also saves programming costs for the Corrections agency.
  •  Maximizing programming slots will offer additional valued programming opportunities where a good institutional disciplinary record is a requirement for selection and ongoing participation.
  •  Lowering recidivism through CI program participation increases public safety, reduces the number of victims and saves the citizens tax dollars. Cost Benefit Research conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy concluded that CI programs lower recidivism, reduce criminal justice costs, and saves tax dollars.  
  • Increasing economic activities through administrative and operational expenditures and increased purchases from local suppliers. A Study of the Economic Impact of the California Prison Industry Authority demonstrated that Correctional Industries has a direct economic effect on state economies. 
  • Deducting offender legal obligations from wages for items such as victims’ compensation, mandatory savings, cost of incarceration, child support, court-ordered financial obligations and other debts owed to Corrections.


  1. Evaluate Current System and Future Potential
    1. Correctional System Analysis – Future potential

      In an effort to maximize offender job opportunities it is necessary to evaluate the capacities and capabilities of the correctional system as it relates to programming. The following are recommended components of an analysis per location:

      • Programming space capacity and capability
      • Available and eligible offender workforce
      • Hours/days of access to the worksite(s) –civilians and offenders
      • Capability to work multiple shifts – civilians and offenders
      • Availability to operate split shifts – Number of available and eligible offenders 
      • Security considerations and concerns with increasing job opportunities
      • Logistical considerations and concerns with increasing job opportunities
      • Is there additional available space currently not used?
      • Are there opportunities for capital expansion? 
      • If lean tools have been used, the results should be evaluated in this analysis.
    2. Current Business Analysis

      When assessing a program, the following should be identified concerning current operations at each location and used when determining opportunities for expansion:

      • Available space utilization
      • Offender workforce utilization – percent/number of available and eligible population
      • Hours/days of operation
      • Number of shifts
      • Special security considerations/risk
      • Logistical considerations/risk
      • Business Analysis

      The level of CI offender programming slots available is often in direct correlation to the amount of current business. To increase the number offenders involved in a CI program it may be necessary to increase business contracts and partnerships. An analysis of your current business should include:

      • Key performance indicators such as revenue, net income, offender program slots, skill sets, etc.
      • Growth/decline trends in current business
      • Growth/decline trends in potential future business
      • Assessment of business by segment (government, PIE, Service, etc.)
    3. Labor Market Analysis

      Ongoing labor market analyses is critical to CI long term planning as it provides information for both the evaluation of current and future skill development. The analysis will clearly identify the needs for employability after release and the identification of potential new business development opportunities.

      The evaluation of current CI skill development is necessary to determine if what is currently offered is relevant to the needs of the current job market.  Given the rapidly changing nature of the job market, it is imperative that leaders access, understand, evaluate, and make existing and new business program decisions based upon labor market information.  

      Identifying and evaluating labor market demands may also be a source of new business development opportunities for a CI program. The Department of Labor (DOL) provides information on current data that identifies labor needs. This includes global information such as careers in demand or specific information such as the individual skills that employers are seeking to fill specific positions. DOL information also projects where skills areas will be in the future based upon trending retirement information.  National and local labor data and contact information is readily available on the U.S. Department of Labor website.

      Reviewing this information on an annual basis can assist management with long- and short-term planning.

    4. Offender Eligibility Criteria

      CI programs have varying eligibility criteria for offender placement into job slots. When assessing the ability to expand the offender workforce, it is necessary to evaluate the current eligibility criteria to determine whether the expansion of the offender workforce can be supported and sustained.  At the same time, it is necessary to consider maximizing the number of offenders who will be transitioning to the community after successful completion of the CI program.

  2. Establish short and long term goals.

    Create goals using the data and information collected. Develop a plan that:

    • Continues to build on and expands the skill sets currently being developed by the program.
    • Expands programming opportunities by maximizing available resources.
    • Recruits and retains new business opportunities which focus on the skill sets identified in the labor market information as areas of future growth.
    • Expands current sales generating increased volume resulting in additional program slots.
    • Identifies business opportunities that will assist with financial sustainability.
  3. Develop strategies to increase work opportunities.

    There are numerous strategies to increase work opportunities. The following strategies can be used as an integrated approach to maximizing the positions available:

    1. Expand Current Markets and Develop New Markets to increase the number of offender job opportunities.
      • Private sector partnerships – PIE or Service Industries
      • Government services with a focus on mission critical operations for the customer.
      • Expand current product sales and product offerings.
      • Balance business unit portfolio to work the greatest number of offenders while remaining financially sustainable. (Refer to the Financial Sustainability Best Practice)
      • Grant Funding Opportunities.
    2. Provide educational programming to expand service levels. This will allow a CI program to expand the number served through offering split schedules, i.e. half-day production, half-day classroom. Target the development of skill sets relevant to current market needs through:
      • Certifications, Technical and Soft Skills
      • Apprenticeships
      • Trades Programs
      • Higher Education Credits
    3. Provide cognitive restructuring and coaching and mentoring to Expand Service Levels. This will allow a CI Program to expand the number served through enhancing their daily/weekly program offerings. Refer to Best Practice component Recruit, Retrain and Develop Staff for further information on this subject matter.
    4. Additional Opportunities for Increased Numbers of Offender Slots:
      • Job Sharing (two offenders working part time in one slot)
      • Limit time an offender works in the program through the adoption of a “graduate” performance completion mastery system. Skills should be developed as close as possible to release to maximize their relevance to potential employers in the community.
  4. Train staff on facility safety and security in CI operations.
    Train staff to focus on facility safety and security procedures in CI operations. Safety and/or security breaches impact both the facility and CI which can result in harm to staff, offenders and the general public as well as damage CI’s relationship and credibility with the facility. In addition, these breaches can lead to loss of production and an inability to fulfill the requirements of customers. Continual training, reminders, and an overall workplace awareness will assist staff in maintaining this focus.
  5. Obtain compliance verification In conjunction with the Department of Corrections or through external sources.
    • Security Audits
    • Safety and Environmental Audits


  • Eligible Offender Population Served
  • Offender program slots by Business Unit Type
  • Offender program slots by Customer Segment
  • Offenders Completing Program (Graduating) and Being Released from Prison
  • Recidivism Rate



The Conference Board. Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce.  

Council of State Government’s Justice Center. (2005). Report of the Re-Entry Policy Council: Charting the safe and successful return of prisoners to the community.

Duran, L., Plotkin, M., Potter, P., Rosen, H. (2013). Integrated Reentry and Employment Strategies: Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Job Readiness.

Harris, T.R., Goldman George G., Price, S. (2010) The Economic Impact of the California Prison Industry Authority on the California Economy for FY 2012-2013 (from 2008/2009).  >

Smith, C. J., Bechtel, J., Patrick, A., Smith, R. R., Wilson-Gentry, L. (2006). Correctional Industries Preparing Inmates for Re-entry: recidivism & post-release employment. t

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010). Career Resource Centers: An emerging strategy of improving offender employment outcomes.

U.S. Department of Justice. (2010). How to Build Partnerships with Employers and Market Offender Workforce Development Initiatives.

U.S. Department of Labor. Veterans Incarcerated Workbook.  Washington, DC:  Veterans’ Employment and Training Service/Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program.

Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (2012) Return on Investment: Evidence-based options to improve statewide outcomes.


Finding national and state-specific LMI
ACA Standards
National Institute of Corrections
Achieving Performance Excellence (APEX)

CI Models with Data to Support Success


The organization’s strategic planning process includes an extensive evaluation of the Department of Correction’s offender population including program eligibility and availability. This information is used when determining TRICOR programming at each facility. Sales expectations at each facility are tied to revenue, business type and offender program positions. For more information concerning the process used to integrate key systems contact the Business Excellence Division.