Page 1


Stigma and social reentry Most inmates emerge out of prisons with a stigma that they will not be able to escape from during their entire lifetime. Many of them tend to be viewed with suspicion by society, while others try to regain society's trust and, as much as possible, to demonstrate that they have the right to a second chance. In recent years, it has been spoken frequently about social reentry of those who have spent time in jail, and of the help these people need in order to begin a new life. Employment is a significant part of the social reentry process. Sustained employment can reduce re-offending One of the most challenging tasks that the newly released offender has to deal with is obtaining employment. Worthwhile employment is an important aspect in the society we live in, this being considered an indicator of a prosperous, respectable and meaningful life and, also, it assures one’s economic independence. As research shows, having a job is the best chance in avoiding recidivism. Thus, occupational functioning is a crucial factor in the success of offenders reentering society and labour market. However, employment opportunities can be next to zero when talking about former offenders and their future integration on the labour market. This is why for many ex-offenders the prospect of recidivism is more likely and desirable. One of the main issue with former offenders in their struggle to find a job, a home and to reinvent themselves once they're out from behind bars, is society's lack of trust in them and labeling them. For most of them a criminal conviction is a red flag for many employers. In addition to this, many offenders reenter society in debt or they face immediate financial obligations, such as childcare, which increases the pressure of finding work. Most of the times, employers reject/discriminate people with a criminal record because, in the perspective of a future offence, they don’t want to be held responsible and, also, they worry for the safety of the rest of their employees. Usually, rejection is mainly based on prejudice rather than real risks. Moreover, most of them have to face not only society’s rejection, but their families’ as well. Rejected by their families and in some cases by society, they find it hard to obtain a job, despite the fact that many of them come out of prison qualified in several jobs that might help them lead a normal, honest life. What is to be done? Change employers’ behavior and combat prejudice and discrimination Increase the chances of reentry of ex-offenders in the labour market (employment opportunities) Reduce the relapse rate (recidivism)

Means by doing it



Efficient Probation Policies

Living in a society with an unstable economy and high unemployment rates makes it difficult as it is for people more or less qualified with no criminal record, let alone people dealing with both these and, in addition, having a criminal record. Another issue, is that not only that the employment rate amongst former offenders is low, but also the income they earn.This is not necessarily due to the negative discrimination of having a criminal record, but mainly due to poor education and/or practical skills. Also, ex-offenders are more likely to accept lower pays. Bottom line is that, with proper support, counseling, guidance and, most important, their own will to change, former inmates can successfully reintegrate within society. Main issues:  Employers’ discrimination against ex-offenders in the labour market  The stigma of having a criminal record when applying for jobs or dealing with employers/recruiters  Background and prison experiences increase the rate of relapse/ re-offending  Lack of a support and counseling system  Non-existent or poor educational and vocational training during incarceration  Lack of employment opportunities is one of the main reasons for recidivism.


Page 2

Common problems of ex-offenders:  Many of the former convicts lack basic knowledge of the world of work and are not accustomed with the means and ways of researching job opportunities.  Many of the former inmates are unwilling/unable to adapt to the life-style that having a steady, stable job implies.  Limited or no work experience  Pre-existing struggles in finding and/or keeping a job prior to the conviction.  Most of them are not prepared for the field of work; they lack education, practical job skills and/or interpersonal skills.  Incarceration, most of the times, leads to the loss of positive social networks that could help them find a job and, at the same time, time behind bars also leads to the creation of new negative social networks.  Employment restrictions barring ex-offenders from working in several occupations.  Many released inmates find they are forced to live in isolated, impoverished communities where there are few job opportunities.  Problems with disclosing their criminal record. Other problems/barriers are related to:  Drug consumption/addiction  Alcohol abuse  Ethnicity  Mental health issues  Homelessness  Learning and adapting issues (illiteracy, poor numerical skills)  Gender  Age  Low self-esteem and self-confidence  Low motivation  Family and relationship issues Specific restrictions in the market vary according to:  The type of the conviction/crime committed  The nature of job they are applying to  Local legislation One must keep in mind that certain jobs might be off-limits, depending on the particular felony that one has committed. For example, one cannot work in the finances area if the crime he went to jail for was of a financial nature, one cannot work as a doctor or lawyer if the crime he went to jail for was related to malpractice or any other profession where the license to practice might be withdrawn/ annulled in case of criminal conduct. Why employers find ex-offenders undesirable     

Concerns about hiring a person with a criminal record that could adopt an inappropriate work conduct Lack of trust due to the ex-offender's past actions, even if it is generated by prejudice instead of a real risk Concerns related to the firm/company/business's image/ reputation Concerns related to the integrity of the ex-offender and his/her ability to adopt a reliable, trustworthy conduct related to his/her work, as well as to the other co-workers Lack of trust regarding the ex-offender's skills necessary for the job in question

Strategies in finding a job:  Social networking (positive): inquiring friends and relatives for job opportunities


Page 3

          

Newspaper ads: responding to local ads Contacting former employer Contacting possible employers/companies Browsing online job websites Registering with the local Unemployment Office Talking with the Parole Officer for references Searching for Government or Community Programs Lining up for a job while still in prison Working within the prison, thus increasing their chances post-release Contacting local human resources organizations to find out whether they offer programs and support for ex-offenders. Considering self-employment and independent contracting

Predictors of employment success      

An objective evaluation of one's skills Having/developing skills in a certain area of work, before, during or after the incarceration period Considering, if necessary, professional reorientation Accurate C.V. and references that will have only real data, as they will be thoroughly verified A positive attitude, together with acquiring interpersonal skills that will prove very useful regarding interviews Prior positive work history before conviction

First step: Preparation Even while in prison, inmates can do a number of things that will increase the chances of them getting employed. Having a job within the prison, performing maintenance activities, outdoor public works or industrial, shows a level of responsibility and willingness to be active. First of all, one should start preparing for release as early in their sentence as possible. This should include assessment of career goals/ objectives, completing all education and vocational training programs offered by the institution/prison and of course, developing a realistic post-release plan. Searching for employment does not have to start necessarily after release. For example, if the prison has some sort of arrangements with various companies, this could be an excellent opportunity for the inmate to arrange something prior release. When hiring a person with a criminal record, employers can benefit from incentive programs offered by the local government (tax deductions/ breaks, other financial benefits). Also, people who have been incarcerated and do find a job can be more loyal, driven and committed towards the job. Unfortunately, many people who prepare for release are unrealistic about what they are going to do and most of the times they lack a workable plan of action and many do not anticipate career related barriers. If the person in cause has no proven experience in starting and managing a business on his/her own, finding employment elsewhere is more desirable. Employment options vary according to the inmate’s education level and background, practical skills, soft skills, openness to learning/acquiring new information/ skills. One of the most useful things to do is to complete the education and upgrade skills. For example, if an inmate has not finished high-school, he/she should get the degree. Furthermore, if the inmate has achieved high-school level, he/she can apply for college/ community college. Consider online or night courses to upgrade education/ skill level. The more educated one is the more chances one has. It is highly important to make a realistic assessment of these aspects and, of course, to be perseverant and to have a strong motivation. If you are an ex-offender looking for a job, it is most likely that you will be hired by the employers in one of these sectors:  Manufacturing  Transportation  Construction  Maintenance


Page 4

In general, sectors/ jobs that don’t have to do with customer service, personal contact with the client, mainly due to the employer’s concerns regarding the possibility of re-offending. Also, these sectors are ideal for ex-offender with little or no experience, as most of the times employers are open to training on-the-job. Usually, when it comes to employers’ attitude and discrimination against applicants, two issues emerges:  the type/ nature of the offence  the relation between this and the job description/ characteristics 1

Moreover, research shows that construction, community, social and personal services are sectors in which those with any known criminal record appear to be the least disadvantaged, as opposed to retail, wholesale, construction, storage and communications, where recruiters would have treated those with a criminal record less favourably. As a general rule, in order to increase chances of getting a job, one should probably choose an industry that is unrelated to his/her conviction. Generally speaking, in choosing which job categories/ads or industries to apply for, three issues are of high importance:  Level of education  Skills  A realistic assessment of the two Employment opportunities Contract jobs A contract job is usually a temporary position based on a limited time frame and, as the economy crisis rises, contract jobs are becoming more and more numerous. Contract jobs can be the best solutions for exoffenders in search of employment and can be a good start in obtaining a permanent position. It is true that contract employees don’t necessarily have the same rights as a permanent employee, however, in some cases, contract employees who perform well may be hired for permanent positions. Contract jobs vs. permanent employment The main difference between regular employment and contract jobs: the duration of the contract. Contract jobs are not permanent positions, the duration of the contract varying from several weeks, months to, in some cases, several years. They resolve specific tasks/ assignments/ projects that appear within companies. The payment for a contract employee is usually done by hour, per project or monthly paycheck. Both contract jobs and permanent jobs have advantages and disadvantages. While it is true that a permanent job offers a great deal of stability and security, contract jobs can be more flexible and more accessible in the case of an ex-offender. 2 Research shows that having a criminal record is more likely to count against applicants for permanent and temporary jobs, than for fixed term contracts. Although, obtaining a fixed term contract/ permanent contract is the ultimate goal, the truth is that there many roadblocks for most of the ex-offenders after release. Most ex-offenders, especially the ones who have been incarcerated for a very long time, compare the process of reentry and job searching to hitting a brick wall. Finding a job and an employer that will not discriminate applicants just for being ex-offenders can be difficult. A valid option in the process of reentry in market is considering self-employment. Self-employment could be just the best option for an ex-offender who is having difficulties in landing employment and who, at the same time, shows entrepreneurial drive. Being self-employed can include freelance or contract works, as well as starting and owning your own business. One major advantage of being self-employed is that having a criminal record is not something you can be judged or discriminated of. You get to make the calls and set your own career objectives and working schedule. If you are motivated and driven to change and improve your life, as an ex-offender there is nothing 1

Research carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2001, UK 2 Research carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2001, UK


Page 5

stopping you from becoming self-employed. Also, other ex-offenders who have chosen self-employment describe it as being more rewarding and self-fulfilling than working for an employer. Disadvantages for self-employment range from lack of financial means to support a start-up business, irregular income, and thus, financial instability. For most self-managed jobs/businesses, in the beginning you will need a great deal of support from family and/or friends, a start-up budget and a set of skills to rely on. One should be aware of the possible obstacles, anticipate and have back-up measures and, especially if you have no experience in self-employment, seek guidance and advice either from your local authorities, parole officer, lawyer, human resources agencies, friends or family. There are many ex-offenders who have made it on their own. Find out about them and try to get in touch to get support and find out about tips & tricks from someone who has been in the same situation. Being self-employed implies taking a lot of responsibility, both for your own actions and for the actions in relation to your clients and prospective clients. Take into consideration that you will need to be:  Self-motivated  Self-confident  Hard working  Self-disciplined  Committed and responsible  Focused and positive  Organised  Professional  Hands on the job  Willing to take risks  A good communicator  Polite and friendly There are many programs that are based on the concept of helping ex-offenders to help themselves, either being carried out within the prison or carried out by the local authorities, that sustain and offer guidance to ex-offenders in their endeavours of being self-employed and starting a business. This is why it is of high importance to know and find out more about these programs and get involved. Also, there are many NGOs that carry out such programs and help ex-offenders seek jobs or get started on being self-employed. To get started, you first need to draft a realistic business plan/plan of action and identify and asses:  Your skills (what are you good at?)  How you can capitalize it  Business idea (is it viable?)  Business costs (what are the variable costs/ fixed costs?)  The sector/ industry you want to work in (do you have the necessary skills?)  The niche you want to market (is it profitable?)  Target audience  The resources you will need (what and where from?)  The resources that you have available  Prospective clients and existing competition  The legal framework/ legislation (what are some possible breaks/ restrictions?)  Training (do you need a certificate or qualification?)  Business rates (how much will you charge for your products/services?)  Legal structure of business (sole trader, partnership or limited company?) The education/ skill level an ex-offender has will limit or increase his/ her chances of starting up a business or making it on their own as self-employed. Limitations only come in the way if one does not acknowledge them and take efficient means in order to reduce them. This is why, unfortunately, selfemployment is not an option for every ex-offender. Opportunities for self-employment vary and are conditioned by two important factors:


Page 6

 

Skill level Education level

Starting up a business is a big step in an individual’s career, especially if you consider the involved risks. Make sure you have a viable business idea and, mainly, be realistic about your earnings and profit in the beginning. Also, make sure you have a strong business plan, with clear, realistic objectives and goals. Here are some of the things that any individual considering starting-up a business needs to know and/or learn:  How to write a business plan  Basic principles of making a business work (key concepts)  How and where to legally register a business  How to plan and organise efficiently  How and where to seek for financial support  How to fill out various tax documents  How, when and where to pay taxes  How and where to find clients/ customers  How to keep record of documents and accounts (bookkeeping, stock control, payrolls, claiming benefits) Planning and organising are essential if you’re considering starting your own business. Start early: ask for help and guidance while still incarcerated; make good use of your time behind bars to study and to learn useful things, such as how to write a business plan. Asses your skills and improve them by taking up any relevant course. It is crucial to have knowledge of the legal framework and to know about loans, grants and other incentives/ breaks you, as an ex-offender, might benefit from, if starting a business. If these are not valid options, consider pitching your business idea/ plan to family and friends in order to get the financial means of starting your business. If nothing else works, seek employment elsewhere, as a first step, and try to save up money. Having a strong support network is very important, as the beginnings of any start-up business can be stressful, challenging and, at some points, discouraging. Also, the reverse of the matter is risky as well. A business that is growing too rapidly can be overwhelming in terms of losing control and not handling all the excess work that a rapid over-development could mean. One should always keep in mind that there are no guarantees and that, generally speaking, it takes time to establish and develop a prosperous business. Depending on the type of business carried out, it can be:  Home based This has the advantage of the implied low costs. However, you may need some sort of permit/licence. Always check for restrictions imposed by the local authorities.  Bought or rented space Check space for business use approval. Consider how much space you really need and how the location of the space affects your business.  Market/Pop-up stands Requires permit from local authorities  Online based If you don’t have the skills on doing it on your own, you will need specialists for web developing.  Operating a franchise Run a branch of a business that has already been set up by someone else. You have to be aware of the fact that being self-employed and having a business means that you are responsible not only for the future decisions, but also for possible mistakes you make. Doing something you enjoy can be a real reward, however, you will need to be self-disciplined. Having a business keeps you in motion at all times, this is why you have to always be on top of everything. Here are some examples of start-up businesses that other ex-offenders have developed:  Catering services  Car maintenance


Page 7

       

Construction services (house restoration, house plumbing) Carpentry and furniture design Painting services Maintenance and cleaning services Administrative and back-office services Gardening and landscape design Moving services Handmade jewellery and accessories

Employment ideas In terms of willingness of employers to hire an ex-offender, trade occupations could be the most favorable for an ex-offender: construction, maintenance (building, office), housekeeping, welding, driving and other jobs that don’t require specific qualifications. The idea is to keep in mind that the job obtained post-release does not have to be the ideal one. In the end, the ultimate goal is getting one which will put him/her back on track. If the education level and skills are poor, one should be realistic about the job opportunities available out on the market. A few of these jobs could be, but are not limited to:  Construction worker  Gardner  Hairdressing  Factory worker (food packaging, waste removal, assembly line)  Dishwasher  Heavy equipment operators  Farm worker  Agriculture worker  Warehouse worker  Maids and housekeeping cleaners  Laundry and dry-cleaning worker  Janitor  Waiting/ restaurant staff  Exterminator  Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning worker  Driver  Handyman  Plumber  Mover  Locksmith  Manual  State jobs (park/ highway cleaning or other exterior locations) Criminal record disclosure and background check 3 According to a research conducted in 2001 criminal record was most likely to be sought for:  Personal and protective services vacancies (83%)  Sales occupations (78%)  Plant and machine operatives (62%)  Health and social work (93%)  Education (78%) It was least likely to be sought for:  Clerical and secretarial (41%) 3

Research carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, 2001, UK


Page 8

   

Construction (13%) Wholesale and retail (38%) Real estate, renting and business activities (47%) Manufacturing (53%)

The same research concludes that:  Criminal record information was much more likely to be sought in the public sector, than the private one, recruiters in the private sector were much more likely to hold criminal record against applicant;  Criminal record was more likely to count strongly against applicants in small organisations (with up to 50 employees), which were also more likely to reject automatically those with a criminal record;  Criminal record was more likely to count against applicants for permanent and temporary jobs, than for fixed term contracts.

Independent contractor Another option for ex-offenders is to pursue jobs as independent contractors. Working as an independent contractor involves a specific term of work. Contractors will agree on a fixed term and generally, work with the client’s equipment (not a rule), at the client’s location. Working as a contractor means that you are responsible for finding contract work, negotiating terms and rates, paying your own taxes, meeting deadlines. Depending on the skills, independent contractors can work in sectors related to construction: anything from home repair, interior design, painting and flooring, plumbing services, interior decorating, landscape design, handyman services. Although, having a contract job may offer you the freedom of choosing the amount of work you can take on, one downside is that you will probably not enjoy all the benefits that a full-time, permanent employee. If you get contracted by a company, for example, your services will cost companies less than permanent employees. In this case, companies are much happier to hire contractors because they do not have to pay for:  Health insurance  Retirement plans  Unemployment assurance  Vacation/ holiday days Advantages of working as an independent contractor:  You can work anywhere as long as you have the skills and access to everything you need to complete the task  Working with no supervision  Having multiple clients/ contracts  Expense deductions  Setting your own working schedule Disadvantages of working as an independent contractor:  Working long hours  Having no reputation (in the beginning)  Paying taxes on your own  Financial insecurity  Often ineligible for unemployment insurance One important aspect is related to the agreement, written or orally, of each contract job. One should consider asking for qualified advice from an attorney, especially if there is little to no understanding of the legal clauses in the contract/ written agreement. Some contracts can be restrictive and favor only the client. Also, as a downside, record and bookkeeping can prove to be somewhat difficult. As an independent contractor one is obliged to pay his/her taxes on their own. On the line of benefits, you will have to pay for your own health insurance and retirement plans. Being your own boss also


Page 9

means having no paid days off, no paid sick days and paid vacation days, which you would normally get from an employer. Being your own boss means direct dealing with the invoicing and collection. Also, most contracts are paid on project/ hourly basis, so a minimum wage is not guaranteed. While it is true that you can make your own decisions/ calls, any mistake can cost you. Keep in mind that in the beginning, independent contracting may not bring a steady income, so it is very important that you deliver quality services and show responsibility to the client, so that you can benefit from the prospect of word-of-mouth advertising and future references from clients. Building up reputation through qualitative services increases your chances in competing with other established businesses and set a loyal customer database. Online freelance work Working as a freelance from home on the computer is a viable option for any ex-offender who has the means of doing it. One advantage is that there are no background checks; no drug tests, no psychological tests and you need no certification. The jobs vary according to the skills and they could be anything from computer programming, to simple data entry, editing and proofreading, simple web research, writing messages on forums (online marketing), testing, and web design. Creative jobs Offenders with a creative vision and artistic skills can make a living out of it. One important aspect is that for creative jobs most of the times instead of a classical resume you will need to build a good portfolio to show to potential employers. The creative industry is a wide and varied one and for most of the openings in such creative domains having a strong social network is essential. Most jobs are occupied through recommendations and word-of-mouth. If you are a talented drawer you can do anything from tattoo art to painting and other visual arts jobs. Although, you can make your way in the traditional fine arts such as sculpting and painting without any computer skills, one should take into consideration that are various job openings and freelance opportunities for creative jobs that require specific tools/ software skills, such as photography, web-design, video editing, game design. Capitalizing your talent can mean anything from working as a DJ or music producer. Consider handmade/ crafting freelancing: you can make anything from handmade jewellery to various accessories or even toys and clothes. You can then sell these items online or register for a pop-up stand at your local market or craft fairs. Jobs requiring certifications In order to increase chances of obtaining a job you can pursue trainings/ vocational trainings and obtain a certification. Although, the certification does not guarantee the job, it increases the odds. You need to check for restrictions in practicing the job. There are many NGO-s that offer free qualification courses, as well as government assured courses. Online and/or night courses are also popular. Some job examples include, but are not limited to: hairdressers, hairstylists, cosmetologists, travel agents, technicians, computer /hardware repairing, mechanics. Apprenticeship Most of the training and learning is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentice learns the profession/ trade. It combines on-the-job training and learning with specific technical instructions. During the apprenticeship you’ll be employed and receive a wage. The duration may vary, usually according to the nature of the job and its difficulty. Finding out about local apprenticeship programs and participating is a good start for obtaining a stable job and for learning new practical skills.


Page 10

Contract jobs and self employment  

A practical guide on finding contract jobs and self employment