The Future of Prison Work: Private Employment Behind Bars

Key Points

A continuous employment program would ease reentry by providing those in prison with some stability upon release, as well as help individuals gain marketable skills and save funds to be used upon release. Hiring individuals in prison can also be a good business strategy as research shows individuals exiting prison are productive, hard workers–and if employed upon release, our community benefits from improved public safety and a stronger economy.
Current barriers to a continuous employment program include the stigma associated with a criminal record, employers’ fear of risk and lawsuit, the occupational licensing regime, and the fact that individuals are often imprisoned far from their community, making continuous employment upon release difficult.
States can promote continuous employment by expanding access to private employment in prison, encouraging proximate placement of individuals to their communities, removing unnecessary licensing hurdles, and making continuous employment an attractive option for employers through use of certificates of relief or limits on negligent hiring liability.

Currently, prison work too often consists of non-transferable 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.

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

Image credit: LightField Studios

Featured Publications