On this page
- Where to Find Nearby Reentry Assistance Programs
- Federal Programs People with Criminal Backgrounds Should Know About
- 8 Essential Tasks Before Applying for Jobs or School
- Tips for Getting Hired as a Formerly Incarcerated Individual
- FAQs and Advice on Attending College or Trade School After Incarceration
- Who Helps Formerly Incarcerated People with Successful Reentry?
- Interview with the Expert
- Additional Reading and and Resources
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How to Get Hired or Go to College After Incarceration
Resources and expert advice for rejoining your community, advancing your education, and finding employment as a formerly incarcerated person.
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Meet the Expert
As a teenager, Sean Walsh was often in trouble with the law. Entrenched in alcoholism, substance abuse, and depression, Sean needed a change. He found it through his faith and his knowledge of construction. Opening Walcraft Cabinetry served not only as his saving grace, but as a beacon to others with a history of incarceration. Today Sean is the leader of Walsh Built Homes and Walcraft Cabinetry, two companies that are now known for providing much-needed second chances to those who seek out a better life.
People who are returning to their communities after being incarcerated are likely eager to hit the ground running the moment they are released. But the unfortunate truth is that it’s an uphill climb. Because of issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, many formerly incarcerated individuals have never had the opportunity to attain high levels of education, making the path to a productive career incredibly challenging. According to a Prison Policy Initiative report, over half of those formerly incarcerated hold only a high school diploma or GED, while a quarter hold no credential at all – contributing to a 27% unemployment rate among those released from prison.
What’s someone to do when faced with such long odds for earning a better education, getting the training they need, and finding a good job after serving their sentence? Fortunately, there are many resources designed to help people with criminal records get back on their feet. This guide showcases these valuable resources and provides expert advice for getting hired, going to college, and making the most of the next chapter of your life.
Where to Find Nearby Reentry Assistance Programs
No matter where you live in the nation, there are public and nonprofit programs that provide a variety of services to help you successfully rejoin your community and get the essentials taken care of. Go to the following sites to find housing, food, job search, and other reentry assistance programs near you.
Federal Programs People with Criminal Backgrounds Should Know About
To help offset the inherent prejudice against job applicants with criminal backgrounds, the federal government has created the following employment programs. They are designed to remove any perceived risk of hiring formerly incarcerated applicants and convince employers to give them a fair chance.
8 Essential Tasks Before Applying for Jobs or School
Those who have been recently released from incarceration might be ready to apply for a job or school right away. However, some essential tasks must be taken care of first, such as getting the proper paperwork, establishing a permanent address, getting a new phone number, and more.
Get a driver’s license or another form of ID.
In many cases, a driver’s license has expired by the time a person is released. They can restore the license for a small fee, or if it has been a certain number of years since the lapse, they might have to take the test again. For some, their license was revoked due to their crime, such as a felony DUI. In that case, they will have to petition the court to reinstate the license.
Establish a permanent address.
In many states, getting a driver’s license or another form of ID requires proof of permanent residency. Proof of permanent residency can often include presenting a utility bill in your name at that particular address, a copy of the lease agreement, or a fellow resident signing an affidavit stating you live at the residence. Establishing a permanent residency can take a matter of weeks or months, depending upon the rules of the particular agency you’re working with.
Figure out transportation.
Getting to and from school or work can be difficult without a vehicle. Look into local bus lines, trains, subways, and other forms of public transportation. Many areas have taxi companies with round-the-clock schedules. Purchasing or borrowing a vehicle from a friend or family member is also an option.
Establish court-ordered requirements.
Upon release, there are likely some court-ordered requirements to meet, such as attending counseling sessions, meeting with a parole officer, or something similar. The court ordered requirements will be clear in how much time you have to complete them. Look at the paperwork you were given upon release; if you’re not sure, contact your attorney, parole officer, or another officer of the court who can help you.
Get a new phone number.
Having a phone number where potential employers can reach you is a vital part of getting a job. Cell phone plans can be expensive. Look into the possibility of getting on a plan with a family member or using some other form of phone service, such as a number through Skype or other messenger services.
See if you qualify for public assistance.
Formerly incarcerated people might need some assistance to get back on their feet. Shelters can help provide meals in the short term, but some might need to look into public assistance. The rules about public assistance for the formerly incarcerated vary depending upon the program. Talk to a public service office, a social worker, or a government agency (such as SNAP) to determine whether you qualify for public assistance and how to get it.
Get healthcare coverage.
Like many Americans, figuring out how to pay for healthcare as a formerly incarcerated person can be challenging, especially for those who have medical conditions that need regular treatment and medications. Look into coverage through the Affordable Care Act as soon as you can, as you may be eligible for a subsidized health care plan. It’s also a good idea to speak to a human services representative about other options. The Department of Human Services, or DHS, is a great place to begin).
Consider substance abuse or sobriety counseling.
Many individuals coming out of prison went in due to issues with substance abuse. It’s important to get counseling immediately upon release, including finding support groups to keep you from relapsing. Contact your local social services division to learn more about community programs, and to get referrals to a professional substance abuse counselor or social worker.
How to Get Job-Ready While Incarcerated or on Parole
There’s no reason incarcerated individuals have to wait to get a jumpstart on their education and prepare to rejoin the workforce. Inmates and parolees can take advantage of many education programs and job planning resources well before they move back into their community. Let’s take a deeper look into some of the tools available to get job-ready:
- GED programs.
GED programs are quite common in prison; according to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least 70% of federal and state inmates earned their GED while incarcerated.
- Free educational programs.
Numerous educational programs are available for inmates, all of which provide some new knowledge or skill that can come in handy upon release. Examples include literacy classes, library services, and wellness education.
- Vocational and technical training.
Some prisons offer hands-on technical training that can provide a boost to a resume upon release. Some of these training programs culminate in certificates that can be used to help with entry into a skilled profession.
- College classes.
Many colleges offer classes to inmates through distance learning. Those who have regular access to a computer can take these courses to build up college credit. However, keep in mind that students must usually fund their education when taking this route.
- Khan Academy and similar programs.
Those who want to learn new things or brush up on the education they already received can go to the internet for free programs. Khan Academy is a good example of education available for free.
- Career counseling.
Sessions with a professional counselor, either one-on-one or in a group setting, might be a requirement for parolees. However, it’s also a good idea for those who have not been ordered by the court to be there.
Tips for Getting Hired as a Formerly Incarcerated Individual
The question “Who will ever hire me?” is one that many people with a justice-involved past ask. The answer: Many good companies are looking for someone with your potential. Here are some tips to help you get to that job and a steady paycheck.
FAQs and Advice on Attending College or Trade School After Incarceration
Attending college is a dream for many, but for those who have been incarcerated, that dream is much more complex. What will it take to get in? Will my criminal history be a problem? Will I be welcomed on campus? Here are some of the answers to the important concerns for college hopefuls.
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Students with Criminal Records
There’s no doubt college is expensive, and almost everyone wonders how they are going to pay for it. This issue can be especially worrisome for formerly incarcerated individuals. Fortunately, upon release, most eligibility limitations are removed. Those with drug-related or sexual offense convictions will have stronger financial aid eligibility restrictions.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common financial aid options below. Visit StudentAid.gov to learn more about federal financial aid for those who are or have been incarcerated, and learn more about funding opportunities by reading STEPS’ guides to financial aid and scholarships.
|Amount||Who is Eligible?||How to Apply|
|Pell Grant||Currently up to $5,920 per year||These awards are for undergraduate students who have not yet earned a degree. This is not available to those who are currently incarcerated. Former inmates who have been convicted of a sexual offense and are subject to an involuntary civil commitment are also ineligible.||The Pell Grant can be obtained by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). The FAFSA® will be required for most awards a student can receive.|
|Federal Work-Study||Varies||This is offered to students with financial need; it allows them to work part-time on campus to earn money toward their education and basic living expenses. Though those who are incarcerated in a federal or state institution are eligible, the logistics of the situation means they likely will not be awarded work-study.||Potential students must fill out the FAFSA® to determine whether they qualify for federal work-study.|
|Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant||Between $100 and $4,000 per year||This is awarded to undergraduate students at participating schools. These grants are given to those who are also eligible for Pell Grants.||As with most funding on the federal level, the FAFSA® is the only way to apply.|
|Federal Student Loans||Up to $12,500 per year for undergrad, and up to $20,500 per year for graduate students||Federal student loans are offered to most students at most colleges. Those who are incarcerated are not eligible for student loans.||The FAFSA® is the first step toward the federal loans; after that, it’s a matter of speaking to a financial aid advisor concerning how much you are eligible for and how to receive it.|
|Employment and Training Administration Grants||Varies||This division of the Department of Labor allows grants for those who are seeking reentry after incarceration. This program works in conjunction with local community opportunities.||Speak to your local college or vocational school about this particular grant; is it possible in your area, and if so, are you eligible?|
|Scholarships||Varies||Eligibility for scholarships varies, but several options do not request information on criminal history. Some schools, such as Adams State University or Wheaton College, offer scholarships specifically for formerly incarcerated students.||Start by filling out the FAFSA®, then check with your potential school about scholarship opportunities. When seeking out scholarships, pay close attention to the rules; if they do not request information about criminal history, you might qualify.|
Who Helps Formerly Incarcerated People with Successful Reentry?
Moving back into society can seem quite daunting. The good news? You’re not doing this alone. Many professionals have made it their life’s work to assist those who are looking to make a fresh start.
Interview with the Expert
Sean Walsh, founder of Walcraft Cabinetry, offers advice for those coming out of the criminal justice system and looking for a better life.
Additional Reading and Resources
This resource guide by the U.S. Department of Education is designed to provide a roadmap for those in the criminal justice system to successfully reenter society, especially in the educational aspect.
Just as the title implies, this excellent website provides information for those who have been incarcerated and helps them find jobs that might be suitable.
This comprehensive website focuses on a wide variety of resources for those seeking reentry or those simply looking to learn more about the formerly incarcerated.
This nonprofit organization seeks to gather information on the state of prisons and inmates today, in the hopes of shedding light on problems and helping improve advocacy.
This project by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers information on what it takes for an individual to successfully reenter society after incarceration.
This comprehensive website offers information on everything from education to employment to housing to public benefits.
This site offers job and career support through information on companies that hire previously incarcerated individuals, resources, how to write a resume, and so much more.