WASHINGTON (April 29) — U.S. unemployment numbers recently reached a 49-year low, with private businesses facing a labor shortage. At the same time, formerly incarcerated individuals are still struggling to find work. Continuous employment programs—wherein individuals work for a private employer while still in prison and have an opportunity to continue working for that same employer upon release—may be a solution to both of these problems. 

In a new policy study, R Street Associate Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Nila Bala and Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties Research Associate Emily Mooney argue that a continuous employment program would ease reentry by providing those in prison with some stability in addition to helping them gain marketable skills and save funds to be used upon release. 

The authors find current barriers to implementing continuous employment programs include the stigma associated with a criminal record, employers’ fears of lawsuits and other risks, the occupational licensing regime, and the fact that individuals are often imprisoned far from their home communities, which makes continuous employment upon release difficult. 

They argue that states can promote continuous employment by expanding access to private employment in prison, encouraging the placement of individuals in prisons that are close to their communities, removing unnecessary licensing hurdles, and making continuous employment an attractive option for employers through the use of certificates of relief or limits on negligent hiring liability. 

The authors conclude that “prison work too often consists of nontransferable skills that are of little use upon reentry. In light of this, it is time to reimagine what prison work can and should consist of, and the role that private employers can play during the period of incarceration and after a person’s release.”