R Street Policy Study No. 171: The Future of Prison Work: Private Employment Behind Bars
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.”