Overcoming Employment Challenges: Empowering Formerly Incarcerated Individuals with Education

Ben Williams
June 12, 2023
“People who come out of incarceration know that the odds are stacked against them. So when they find an employer that supports them, they care about their job and their employer.”

- Jeffrey Korzenik, chief investment strategist at Fifth Third Bank.

After serving their time, many people still find themselves being punished for mistakes they made in the past. Prison sentences are designed to be punishment for crimes, but upon release, formerly incarcerated people find it challenging to find work, housing, and other basic necessities. Most people agree there are specific jobs they wouldn’t offer to a violent offender. However, most advocate for a legal system that doesn’t punish people for life after serving their prison sentence.

Addressing employment challenges is essential to building a justice system that restores and rehabilitates incarcerated people. Without access to employment, formerly incarcerated individuals (especially those without support from friends or family) are faced with a choice: live on the streets or commit crimes to survive. The good news is that many organizations are working on empowering formerly incarcerated individuals and helping them find paths to employment. A primary example is HonestJobs. Founded by formerly-incarcerated Harley Blakeman, HonestJobs is helping thousands of people find meaningful employment despite their backgrounds.

Understanding the issue.

According to a report released in 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 50,000 individuals released from federal prisons encountered daunting challenges in securing employment. The report revealed that a staggering 33% of them could not find employment over a four-year period post-release. Additionally, the study found that, at any given time, no more than 40% of the cohort was employed. Formerly incarcerated individuals face substantial barriers in their quest for gainful employment.

Ineffective one-size-fits-all job background checks treat premeditated murder the same as a teenage shoplifting charge or view violent assault as equal to a bounced check. This means that anyone who has served time is treated equally, no matter the severity of the charge. Not only is this unfair to individuals, but it also makes it difficult for employers to decide if they should hire a formerly incarcerated person.

Additionally, there are no legal protections against discrimination or pay disparity for the third of Americans who have criminal records yet still need to support themselves and their families. Even if formerly incarcerated people find work, they are often paid significantly less than their peers for the same work. These challenges make it exceedingly difficult for people to make a living wage after serving time in prison. With 96% of people in prison eventually being released, the correctional system should prioritize helping individuals successfully re-integrate into society.

Creating the solution

“We're rewriting the narrative and giving people a fair chance to earn an honest living." shares Harley Blakeman, CEO of Honest Jobs. Harley Blakeman was incarcerated before he turned 20 and knows firsthand the impact of a criminal record on finding employment. After dealing with much adversity finding work, Blakeman wanted to dedicate his time and energy to helping other formerly incarcerated individuals find work they enjoy.

HonestJobs is a tool that people can use to find jobs. They have over 400,000 job openings from 1,300+ fair-chance employers. Users can enter their criminal background and education to find jobs that work for them. "Finding meaningful employment with a criminal record can be an uphill battle, eroding confidence and facing continuous rejection.” shares Blakeman.” Through our network of 1,000+ fair-chance employers, Honest Jobs has empowered over 65,000 individuals by instilling confidence, reducing rejection, and accelerating their path to better jobs.”

HonestJobs is also being made available to individuals who are still incarcerated through platforms like Nucleos. Nucleus provides educational tools to incarcerated people, helping them learn new skills to find jobs when they are released. This enables incarcerated people to see what job opportunities are available to them and earn the education required for jobs they find. “We’re giving people the tools they need to return to society and rebuild their lives,” shares Nucleos Director of Operations Chris Aro. Nucleos is excited to leverage its partnership with HonestJobs to offer a holistic solution to employment and education for incarcerated learners.

Today, HonestJobs has helped over 50,000 individuals find employment. They aim to continue to support formerly incarcerated people to find meaningful work and want to expand their vision to help individuals before they are even released from prison.

A Path to a Brighter Future

We firmly believe in the potential for positive change and transformation. At Nucleos, we know that we cannot solve the problem of recidivism and mass incarceration alone, and we love to see the successes that other people and organizations are having. We firmly believe in HonestJobs’ mission and are excited to see how they continue to grow and impact more people. Through personalized support and guidance, we can create opportunities for upward mobility and long-term stability.

The struggle to find employment after incarceration is an ongoing challenge faced by many individuals seeking a fresh start. Nucleos recognizes the importance of career platforms like HonestJobs as a catalyst for change and is committed to helping formerly incarcerated individuals access the resources they need to secure meaningful employment. We are thrilled to see the progress that is being made in justice reform and are happy to be one small piece of the puzzle. By supporting the growth and development of opportunities for incarcerated individuals, we can build a safer society for everyone.

About the project