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.
- 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.
- Outreach and Engagement of Underserved Populations
Effective community engagement and outreach takes careful planning and acknowledgement that each population that we work with is unique and offers us opportunities to broaden our understanding of what makes a community. Here are some strategies to consider when building your outreach and engagement approaches.
- Reentry Resources for Individuals, Providers, Communities, and States - TACQE
Learn about SAMHSA’s Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative. This program addresses the behavioral health needs of people involved in - or at risk of becoming involved in - the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
- Understanding Leads to Collaboration: Federal Services for Veterans with Criminal Backgrounds - TACQE
To facilitate collaboration and to better serve Veterans with criminal backgrounds, explore the following programs from the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Back to Basics: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company - American Civil Liberties Union
A resource to share with employers to clarify the benefits of hiring workers with previous convictions.
- Ex-Offenders and Employment – Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program
Information to help employers feel better deciding to hire someone with a criminal background.