Create a Culture of Employment Readiness and Retention for Incarcerated Individuals

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Employment readiness encompasses several areas including soft-skills, cognitive skills and industry-recognized training and certifications employers expect from qualifiedapplicants. Employment readiness/employability pertains to both the offender’s ability to obtain and retain a job. Correctional Industries (CI) programs should focus on both. The ability to gain employment and the ability to retain employment are two very different skill sets the offender must acquire to be successful in the work place. CI work assignments should mirror the community workplace including: job applications, job interviews, orientation (to include workforce expectations and worker engagement), ongoing training, and regular work evaluations, termination for unacceptable performance or conduct, and opportunities for performance-based pay raises. Creating a culture of offender employment readiness and retention includes work readiness assessment conducted at entry, at periodic points during employment and at the end of employment with CI. In addition, every position in CI should be identified by its Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code found at the Department of Labor’s “O*Net” website. This is essential in linking CI work with work in the community and it is the first step in developing a workforce development culture within CI.


An extensive body of research has established that a felony conviction or time in prison makes individuals significantly less employable. It is not simply that individuals who commit crimes are less likely to work in the first place, but rather, that felony convictions or time in prison act independently to lower the employment prospects of ex-offenders. (Ex‐offenders and the Labor Market John Schmitt and Kris Warner November 2010)

Employment can make a strong contribution to recidivism-reduction efforts because it refocuses individuals’ time and efforts on pro-social activities, making them less likely to engage in riskier behaviors and to associate with people who do. Having a job also enables individuals to contribute income to their families, which can generate more personal support, stronger positive relationships, enhanced self-esteem, and improved mental health. For these reasons, employment is often seen as a gateway to becoming and remaining a law-abiding and contributing member of a community. Employment also has important societal benefits, including reduced strain on social service resources contributions to the tax base, and safer, more stable communities. (Integrated Re-entry and Employment, The Council of State Governments Justice Center, Reducing Recidivism and Promoting Job Readiness, 2013).

Emerging research suggests a connection to employment retention and reduced recidivism. The ability to gain employment and the ability to retain employment are two very different skill sets the offender must acquire to be successful in the work place.

Corrections professionals have a critical mission that includes the goal of ensuring that offenders who leave corrections supervision do not recidivate. Research confirms that employment is a critical component of successful re-entry; creating a culture of offender success through employment readiness is essential. Not only do released offenders need the ability to gain employment, they need to retain employment.

Today’s successful offender employment programs are those that are employer-driven. These programs are supported by, and built on, labor market information. They offer industry-standard training and certifications that meet employers’ expectations, and placements that focus on benefits to employers.

Employers face global competition in their drive to operate successful businesses in today’s marketplace. If the correctional system is to be successful in placing ex-offenders in meaningful employment that meets employers’ expectations, Correctional Industries must create a culture that prepares offenders for gainful attachment to the workforce.

The Council of State Government’s National Reentry Resource Center studies clearly show a link between employment and reduction in recidivism. The ex-offenders’ ability to gain and retain employment is an important factor in reducing recidivism as 85% - 89% of ex-offenders rearrested are unemployed at time of re-arrest. An unemployed ex-offender is three times more likely to return to prison than an employed ex-offender. A 1996 study in New York State showed that 89 percent of parole and probation violators were unemployed at the time of re-arrest. (Source: Texas Department of Justice, 1990 and State of New York Department of Labor, 1996)

Creating a culture of offender success through employment readiness goes hand in hand with ex-offender employability and job retention. Additionally, Correctional Industries will benefit by offenders who have developed a culture of offender success through employment readiness, creating a competitive environment that emulates good operations practices. The Federal Bureau of Prisons studies show offenders who have participated in CI have a lower rate of institutional misconduct in prison.

FBOP studies show prisoners with a lower rate of misconduct in prison have a lower recidivism rate. Recidivism studies in fifteen states show reduced recidivism for offenders who participate in correctional industries – AZ, CA, CO, FL, ID, IA, LA, MD, MN, MT, NC, OK, TN, VT, WA.


    1. Ensure building lives versus building products is the focus of the CI organization.
      There must be a change in the focus of the CI organization from making products to building lives. Correctional Industries’ mission, vision and values must support a culture of offender success through employment readiness. 
    2. Support a culture of offender success through employment readiness.

      Career focused reentry can prepare offenders for employment and job retention, with an emphasis on soft-skills and industry-standard training and certifications that will meet employers’ expectations for qualified applicants. Additionally criminogenic risks need to be identified and addressed for the released offender to be employment ready and employable.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a communication style designed to help a person reduce ambivalence about a lifestyle or behavior change.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) or cognitive behavioral intervention (CBI) is a type of process that explores the relationship between thoughts, values and behaviors.

  1. Incorporate cognitive behavioral principles with motivational interviewing techniques in CI operations.

    These can be an important component impacting employment readiness and retention. Programs and best practices for CBT and MI can be implemented or reinforced in CI operations and involve staff at all levels.

  2. Use the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code to identify each offender position used in CI.

    The 2010 SOC system is used to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data. All workers are classified into one of 840 detailed occupations according to their occupational definition. To facilitate classification, detailed occupations are combined to form 461 broad occupations, 97 minor groups, and 23 major groups. Detailed occupations in the SOC with similar job duties, and in some cases skills, education, and/or training, are grouped together. The SOC code can be found at:

    The O*Net program is the nation’s primary source of occupational information. Central to the project is the O*Net database which contains information on hundreds of standardized and occupation specific descriptors. SOC codes and O*Net are the primary system and language used by Workforce Development Professionals both locally and nationwide. It provides the ability to clearly understand what an offender did while assigned to CI.

  3. Provide ongoing professional development to CI Staff.

    Correctional Industries needs to become a “Learning Organization” focusing on talent management and development. A learning organization makes it a priority to engage its entire workforce on continuing education paths that support both personal and professional development. There is a focus on self-awareness so individuals identify their areas of strengths and opportunities for improvement with their supervisors. This should also be supported by a performance management system that is relevant, timely and supports the culture that is necessary to meet the goal of employment readiness for the offenders served in the program. CI Staff need to be trained to be leaders, mentors, teachers, coaches and role models. CI staff should be trained to offer, utilize and demonstrate, through modeling, critical thinking skills when interacting with offender workers. CIs should implement evidence-based training and ongoing professional coaching for staff to enable them to be effective in their roles.

  4. Provide meaningful job training by emulating the private sector workplace in work assignments.

    Correctional Industries should set clear metrics for work goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART). These should be accompanied by a system of rewards and recognition for accomplishment. Jobs should mirror the community workplace including: applications, interviews, orientation (to include workforce expectations and worker engagement), regular work evaluations, pay increases, termination for unacceptable performance and opportunities for performance-based pay. Correctional Industries should teach and reinforce work ethic principles including daily attendance, punctuality, quality, productivity, team work, communication skills, the ability to take direction from a supervisor, and adherence to health and safety guidelines.  (For more information, refer to the Replicate Private Industry Environment best practice.)

    Offenders need to understand that Safety and Security are important to businesses they will work for after release. Employers cannot afford employee accidents (safety) as well as security issues (people who do not work in the building prohibited from entering unless escorted, security of inventory and property, etc.)

    Studies indicate that offenders working in Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) programs have single digit recidivism rate.
  5. Develop time management skills.

    Time management skills are essential for offenders who transition from an institutional environment where most decisions were made for them, into a world where they immediately become the decision-makers. Development of these skills must begin well before time of release. Time management training helps offenders plan for a productive and balanced use of personal time, which supports success on the job after release.

  6. Utilize journey workers as on-the-job trainers.

    A journey worker is someone who is advanced beyond being an apprentice. The use of trained offender journey workers as on-the-job trainers saves costs and provides excellent skill-building opportunities for the journey worker and other offenders. The use of journey workers helps multiply and enhance the training CI staff can provide offender workers.

  7. Assist offenders with networking.

    Networking for employment leads is often a new concept for many offenders who need coaching on how to best utilize their social contacts for job leads. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Offenders need to learn to keep in touch, and tell everyone they are looking for a job. Offenders need to explore ways such as mock job fairs and transition resource fairs to teach networking skills while incarcerated.

    Federal Bureau of Prisons Mock Job Fairs
  8. Partner with workforce development agencies.

    Partner with Workforce Development and One-Stop Career Centers as a potential source of job readiness training, pre-release job readiness programming and ongoing support services for offenders post release. Additionally, some Chambers of Commerce and small business organizations have programs or networking to provide ex-offenders leads and job opportunities. (For more information, refer to Provide Post-Release Employment Services best practice.)

  9. Provide credentials to demonstrate employability.

    Provide credentials to validate Correctional Industry work history including: Department of Labor (DOL) Apprenticeships, trade association certifications, Industry standard certifications such as; Association for Linen Management, American Board of Opticianary, American Welding Society, OSHA safety certifications and specific skill certifications (i.e. fork-lift certification), etc. (For more information, refer to ‘Provide Certified Technical Skills’ and ‘Implement Certificate Based Soft Skills Training’ best practices.) When external credentials are not available, CI should develop an internal offender certificate of participation or proficiency. Internal documentation of an offenders CI work history is an important motivational tool during incarceration and post-release. Documentation should include number of hours worked in a specific SOC code and include written criteria for areas like performance, attitude, safety and teamwork. Absent of external certifications this may be the only record of an offenders participation in CI while incarcerated.

  10. Develop Career Resource Centers.

    Career Resource Centers, facilitated by offender clerks, support career exploration and improve offender employment outcomes. These Centers help transform offender thinking to a career mindset. A Career Resource Center emerging strategy is to provide internet accessibility. Resources are available through NIC at no cost.

    Career Resource Centers: An Emerging Strategy for Improving Offender Employment Outcomes
  11. Assign and develop staff to build business relationships.

    Correctional Industries should assign and train staff to develop business connections with employers. Developing working relationships with business executives, company CEOs and HR professionals creates a favorable environment for employing offenders in the future. Developing both formal and informal relationships with members of the business community furthers the professional partnership. Invite employers to visit, tour your operations and conduct mock interviews.

  12. Develop training programs based on Labor Market Information (LMI).

    Develop training programs based on employers’ needs using LMI available through the State Department of Labor. If Correctional Industries do not stay abreast of occupational trends, the training CIs offer may not meet the needs of the local business; this will result in released offenders not being employment-ready. It is best to frequently check this information with industry leaders in local communities to determine if state-wide or local events are having an unexpected impact on occupational trends. Whenever possible, collaborate with corrections education/vocational training, technology schools and state manufacturing organizations for training programs that fit the needs of Correctional Industries and the occupational trends.

  13. Invite employers to serve on advisory boards and committees.

    Employers know the traits and factors that support job readiness. Agencies that invite employers to serve on advisory boards and committees often report closer working relationships with the business community. These employers bring real work perspectives to the discussion and to the decisions made by advisory boards and committees.

  14. Obtain compliance verification in conjunction with the Department of Corrections or through external sources.
    • Workforce Development Assessments
    • Security Audits
    • Safety and Environmental Audits
    • PIE Assessments
    • ACA Audits
    • Other assessments, i.e. DOL, education, ISO


  • Offender Engagement Surveys
  • Employee (Staff) Engagement Surveys
  • Organizational Culture Inventory



Charles Koch Institute (2017). Workers with Criminal Records – A Survey by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Charles Koch Institute. Society for Human
Resource Management (SHRM).

Sparkman, David (2018). Is Hiring Ex-Offenders a Good Idea? Industry Week.

Cindy J. Smith; Jennifer Bechtel; Angie Patrick; Richard R. Smith; Laura Wilson-Gentry. “Correctional industries preparing inmates for re-entry: recidivism & post-release employment.”

Plotkin, M., Duran, L., Potter, P., Rosen, H. (2013). Integrated re-entry and employment strategies: reducing recidivism and promoting job readiness.

Richmond, K. (2014). Why work while incarcerated? Inmate perceptions on prison industries employment. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 53 (4), 231-252.

Schmitt, J, & Warner, K. (2010). Exoffenders and the labor market.

National Correctional Industries Association 
National Institute of Corrections
The Employer-Driven Model and Toolkit

Networking - Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences

FBOP Mock Job Fairs

Organizational Culture Inventory - measuring organizational culture


National Institute of Corrections’ programs such as The Employer-Driven Model and Toolkit, Offender Employment Specialist Training, Offender Employment Retention, Principles and Practices and Evidence-Based Practices in a Correctional Setting, Offender Workforce Development Specialist Training, Motivational Interviewing Training, Thinking for a Change Training and Career Recourse Centers (CRC)

Organizational Culture Inventory - measuring organizational culture

CI Models with Data to Support Success

Indiana - Career Development Training (Based on NIC’s Career Resource Center) where offenders learn about careers, cognitive based approach to career/life planning resulting in long-term career plan development. Florida similarly has implemented NIC’s based Career Recourse Centers.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) and state recidivism studies show a reduction in recidivism for those offenders who participate in CI programming. FBOP’s Prep Study shows ex-offenders who worked in UNICOR are 24% less likely to recidivate. 
Recidivism studies in fifteen states show reduced recidivism for offenders who participate in correctional industries – AZ, CA, CO, FL, ID, IA, LA, MD, MN, MT, NC, OK, TN, VT, WA.