Formerly Incarcerated VR Clients Outreach Guide

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Providing vocational rehabilitation services to a person with a disability who was formerly incarcerated can be very challenging. Not only are employers frequently hesitant to hire formerly incarcerated job seekers, but the social stigma around criminal backgrounds can create additional barriers to employment and full integration into society.

In March of 2021, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that around 38% of currently incarcerated people have some sort of disability: nearly one in four has a cognitive disability. In the first year after release, 45% of people in this population report no earnings.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors are well-positioned to meet this challenge and provide career counseling to formerly incarcerated individuals with disabilities. Counselors’ understanding of disability-specific barriers to employment, employer needs, and experience with and access to specialized training and resources uniquely positions them to support these job seekers.

The experience of vocational rehabilitation professionals working with formerly incarcerated people with disabilities has shown these approaches to be effective (Greco 2022):

  • Acknowledge the stigmatization around criminal backgrounds and check your own biases.
  • Respect and use the language each person uses to identify their own experience to avoid reinforcing the social stigma around experiences with the justice system.
  • Invest in developing a working alliance with the job seeker. Individuals involved with the justice system may have a mistrust of service professionals or state agencies.
  • Use a strength-based counseling technique, such as motivational interviewing, to build persistence and a resilient attitude at the start of the job search process.
  • Present the job-search as a process. If a customer can envision the first job as a starting block for a further career goal, it can help to derive motivation and drive to persist in what otherwise may not be seen as a first choice career.

Outreach to Formerly Incarcerated VR Customers

Use these resources as you work to improve quality employment outcomes for formerly incarcerated job seekers.

On-Demand Training

  • Reentry and Rehabilitation Counseling - TACQE U

    Learn to recognize the intersection of disability and the criminal justice system at the point of re-entry. Explore how barriers such as how collateral consequences impact future employment. Augment rehabilitation counseling techniques with considerations for the unique needs of this specialized population.

  • Veterans and VR: Challenges for Veterans with Criminal Backgrounds 101 – TACQE U

    Gain a better understanding of employment barriers for veterans with criminal backgrounds. You’ll learn more about available resources including Fidelity Bonding, Veteran Justice Outreach Program, Veteran Treatment Court, Department of Veteran Affairs.

More Resources

Related Resources: Formerly Incarcerated VR Customer

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