NACo POLICY RESEARCH PAPER SERIES • ISSUE 3 • FEBRUARY 2016
91 percent of jails are operated by counties.
Counties have a key responsibility in maintaining safe, secure and economically resilient communities. Counties support 91 percent of all local jails in the United States, which admitted 11.4 million individuals in 2014. Jails also release more than 135,000 inmates each day. In addition, individuals released from federal and state prisons may turn to county social services for assistance upon returning home. Employment is one of the best ways to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals, as it reduces recidivism and allows them to contribute to their families and communities.
Reentry programs are an important part of counties’ strategy to keep communities safe and secure.
Counties and local workforce development boards (local WDBs) cooperate to provide workforce training services and assistance to residents, including formerly incarcerated adult and youth populations. Reentry programs provide assistance and services to individuals who have been released from jail or prison or who are preparing to be released. Federal resources devoted to workforce development through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) play a major role in supporting reentry programs at the local level. With support from the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB), NACo surveyed 550 local WDB directors between October and November 2015 to better understand how county governments, including county jails, work with local WDBs on reentry programs and workforce development. The results of the 2015 NACo survey show that:
1. County governments collaborate with local WDBs in reentry programs that provide services to correctional populations.
County governments play an active role in the operation of the 550 local WDBs across the country and are involved in 90 percent of local WDBs.
92 percent of reentry programs provide services to county jail and juvenile justice populations.
Almost half (47 percent) of respondent local WDBs operated reentry programs for adults (44 percent) or youth (30 percent), as of November 2015. Local WDBs join forces with county governments to deliver reentry programs that provide workforce training and services to individuals who are currently or were formerly incarcerated. This partnership includes different county departments, from social and human services to the sheriff and probation departments. County governments benefit directly from reentry programs; 92 percent of respondent local WDBs with reentry programs reported that individuals who are incarcerated or released from county jails or county juvenile detention centers receive program services. Responding local WDBs with reentry programs report many successes; 44 percent place formerly incarcerated individuals into jobs, another 39 percent indicate formerly incarcerated individuals are employed in non-subsidized jobs and an additional 29 percent reduce recidivism, including new arrests and incarceration. To learn more about reentry programs and the services they provide, see the Region VI Workforce Investment Board and Clackamas County case studies accompanying this report.
2. Federal funding, such as WIOA’s Adult and Youth Activities programs, play an essential role in supporting local reentry programs.
66 percent of local WDBs’ reentry programs receive the majority of their funding from the federal government.
Eighty-one (81) percent of respondent local WDBs with reentry programs receive the largest share of their program funding from federal agencies, including the Labor, Education and Justice Departments. Two thirds (66 percent) of local WDBs with reentry programs receive the majority (more than 50 percent or more) of their program funding from the federal government. Funding from the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Adult WIOA program is the federal source tapped most by respondent local WDBs (77 percent) for adult reentry programs followed by Dislocated Worker funding (44 percent). Most respondent local WDBs (85 percent) with reentry programs for youth use federal Youth WIOA program funding from DOL. Besides federal funding, local WDBs access other government funding sources to maintain their services, including county funding (21 percent of respondent local WDBs) and state funding (45 percent). To learn how the federal government helps counties reduce recidivism through reentry programs, see the Ventura County case study accompanying this report.
3. Reentry programs are a high priority for county governments and local WDBs, but present challenges.
54 percent of local WDBs identify funding as the top challenge to maintaining or creating reentry programs.
The successes and challenges of the reentry programs developed by local WDBs affect counties and their residents. Tackling the challenges of delivering reentry programs contributes to a stronger workforce and safer counties. Maintaining reentry programs is a high priority for 77 percent of local WDBs. In the areas in which local WDBs do not currently have reentry programs, there is a significant interest in establishing such programs. Sufficient funding for reentry programs is a concern for a majority of respondent local WDBs, regardless of whether they are trying to maintain or create reentry programs. However, challenges extend beyond the local WDBs. For example, background checks hinder the success of integrating formerly incarcerated individuals into the workforce, as indicated by 34 percent of responding local WDBs. Often, individuals involved in the justice system who receive program services cannot pass background checks and, therefore, remain unemployed. Another recurrent issue is family stability, as reported by 42 percent of local WDBs. Family is an important source of social support for formerly incarcerated individuals who are trying to find and hold jobs. Previous research shows that formerly incarcerated individuals with strong family ties are less likely to recidivate.
4. County governments and local WDBs work with a wide network of partners to improve employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals.
47 percent of local WDBs with reentry programs work with schools and colleges.
Counties and local WDBs partner most often with non-government organizations to deliver reentry programs. Seventy-nine (79) percent of local WDBs with reentry programs work with non-profits to provide services to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into their families and communities. Other partners include faith based and philanthropic organizations as well as the private sector. In addition to WIOA, federal programs such as the Second Chance Act, can support services provided through non-profits that are partners of local WDBs. Nearly half (47 percent) of local WDBs with reentry programs have education partners, including schools and colleges. These partnerships demonstrate the efforts of counties to capitalize on resources that will reduce recidivism and protect public safety. To learn more about how reentry programs work with non-profits, see the Dane County case study accompanying this report.
Employment is one of the best ways to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals.
Counties play an active role in criminal justice and workforce development efforts. These endeavors focus on the labor market success of formerly incarcerated individuals and their reintegration into the local economy. Counties are in the position to work alongside local WDBs to implement and deliver reentry programs that reintegrate individuals into the workforce and reduce recidivism. Reentry programs are part of larger county efforts to maintain public safety while reducing the jail population and jail costs, including preventing jail inmates from cycling in and out of county jails. As criminal justice reform efforts progress around the country, reentry programs are increasingly part of the solution that addresses the changing needs of the county justice system.
Counties have a key responsibility in maintaining safe and secure communities and ensuring economic opportunities for residents. Incarceration, whether for a few days, months or years, removes individuals from the workforce and reduces their ability to financially contribute to their families and communities. Reintegrating individuals involved in the justice system back into the workforce keeps counties safe and secure.
Incarceration, whether for a few days, months or years, removes individuals from the workforce.
Reentry and employment for formerly incarcerated individuals is a substantial issue facing counties. County governments invest $93 billion annually in justice and public safety for their residents and support local economies through more than $25 billion investment in economic development annually, including workforce training.13 Strong and resilient county economies rely heavily on an employable and skilled workforce. Preparing justice involved individuals to be successful in the labor market and expanding their employment opportunities yields dividends to counties. Funding from the federal government, including from the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and Justice, supports counties’ efforts to reduce recidivism and improve the employment outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Counties are the front door of the U.S. criminal justice system. Because of this position, counties have a significant interest and role in identifying cost effective solutions that not only reduce the county jail population, but also protect public safety. Counties support 91 percent of all local jails in the United States.14 Reducing incarceration and the corresponding costs are high county priorities.15 Over time, counties have experienced growing jail populations and soaring jail costs. 16 In 2014, jails held nearly 745,000 inmates.17 Between 2000 and 2014, the number of jail inmates increased 20 percent.18 Similarly, county corrections expenditures swelled by a staggering 74 percent between 2000 and 2012.19
Counties are working to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals into the community and keep them from returning to jail. Each week, jails turn over more than half of the total jail population.20 County jails release both pretrial detainees who are charged with a crime and unconvicted and jail inmates who have completed their sentence following conviction. Employment has a positive effect on individuals released from incarceration by providing a source of income, transferable skills and experience, a routine and a stable environment.21 Further, formerly incarcerated individuals who are working are less likely to recidivate and return to county jails.22
Formerly incarcerated individuals who are working are less likely to recidivate and return to county jails.
Improving the labor market opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals is part of counties’ strategy to break the cycle of incarceration, reduce county jail spending and protect public safety. This approach focuses on increasing employment opportunities for all individuals in the justice system, both county justice system populations and former federal and state prisoners. Once released from prison, these individuals may turn to county social services for assistance upon returning home. At the same time, if former prisoners recidivate, they return to county jails.
Reentering the workforce is a great challenge for individuals who were incarcerated. Time away from the labor market because of incarceration, in addition to having an arrest or criminal record, is a barrier to employment.23 Further, evidence shows that employers are reluctant to hire applicants with a criminal record.24 Even short term pretrial incarceration can result in individuals losing jobs.25
To increase the job and economic opportunities of formerly incarcerated individuals, counties partner with local workforce development boards (local WDBs) in reentry programs that focus on employment (See Key Terms Used in this Study). Reentry programs are designed to provide workforce training services and assistance to formerly incarcerated individuals, including adults and youth, who have been released from a correctional facility or who are preparing for release. Reentry programs bring together the workforce development and justice systems to reduce recidivism and often use criteria to establish eligibility for participation, such as a probation officer’s recommendation or a risk assessment score that indicates if an individual is at a higher risk of recidivism. Unlike other workforce development services, reentry programs are designed to help individuals involved in the justice system overcome specific challenges, including criminal records, limited work opportunities and employment gaps because of incarceration. In some cases, reentry programs begin working with individuals when they are still incarcerated in an effort to prepare them for release from incarceration. Establishing and maintaining the services provided through reentry programs is an essential element for safe and secure counties, helping county efforts to reintegrate formerly incarcerated individuals, reducing recidivism and supporting county workforce development and the local economy.
This study examines reentry programs that help counties achieve their public safety goals and promote a vibrant and resilient economy. With support from the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB), NACo surveyed 550 local WDB executive directors between October and November 2015 (referred to as the “2015 NACo survey” in this study). The research provides an understanding of how county governments, including county jails, work with local WDBs on reentry programs and workforce development and how the county benefits from reentry programs. Further, this study examines the funding sources of local reentry programs, the importance of federal funding to local reentry programs and the challenges facing reentry programs. This study only focuses on reentry programs developed and delivered to formerly incarcerated individuals by local WDBs that receive funding from a variety of sources.
County governments have a high stake in the workforce system and economic development. Effective workforce systems support and strengthen county economies. In turn, strong county economies provide new opportunities for county governments, businesses and residents. Federal policies that promote a skilled workforce help the economic progress on the ground, in county economies.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) supports the public workforce system. Passed in 2014 and taking effect in 2015, WIOA is a vital funding source for workforce development that helps counties tackle and overcome the challenges facing job seekers and employers. WIOA replaced the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the previous federal statute governing federal funding for workforce development.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) seeks to expand workforce opportunities for individuals involved in the justice system.
WIOA seeks to expand workforce opportunities for individuals involved in the justice system. Chief among WIOA purposes is to increase labor market access for individuals with barriers to employment, including “ex-offenders.” WIOA defines ex-offenders as an:
“Adult or juvenile who is or has been the subject to any stage of the criminal justice process and for whom services under [WIOA] may be beneficial, or who requires assistance in overcoming artificial barriers to employment resulting from a record of arrest or conviction.”
According to this definition, WIOA can provide education and training and employment resources to any segment of the county justice population. This population includes individuals who have been released from county jail and individuals who are under the supervision of county probation or community corrections. It also includes individuals who are preparing to be released from jail, including individuals who are pretrial, with their cases still moving through the court system. More than 60 percent of the county jail population is pretrial and some of the pretrial population is released from incarceration.26 Individuals released from federal and state prisons also meet WIOA’s definition of ex-offenders. In this study, the term “formerly incarcerated individuals” is used to indicate an adult or youth, regardless of conviction status, who is or has been incarcerated.
WIOA can provide education and training and employment resources to any segment of the county justice population.
WIOA funds three major programs: Adult, Dislocated Worker and Youth. Each program targets a group identifiable by its eligibility for employment and training activities under that program (See Key Terms Used in This Study). For example, Adult WIOA funding targets individuals who are 18 and older. Dislocated Worker funding targets jobseekers who have lost their job and are unable to collect unemployment compensation. Youth WIOA funding targets younger workers, depending on their age, school status, income status and barriers to employment. A fourth WIOA program provides universal access to employment assistance through the Wagner-Peyser Act. The Wagner-Peyser program provides job seekers with self-service and staff-assisted help with looking for jobs, job referrals and job placement.
WIOA also establishes the one-stop center delivery system, which provides convenient access to job search assistance, workforce training and career services through brick-and-mortar locations. WIOA funding, including Wagner-Peyser, and one-stop centers expand labor market opportunities for the county justice population.
WIOA, like its predecessor WIA, creates and emphasizes the role of workforce boards that put WIOA into action. WIOA requires the governor of each state to establish a state-level workforce development board. In order for a state to receive WIOA money, the governor must also establish local areas (See Key Terms Used in this Study) in the state. Each local area has a workforce development board (local WDB; See Key Terms Used in this Study). In 10 states, the governor designated the state as one local area, so the state workforce board assumes also the responsibilities of local boards.
Because of differences in the areas they serve, state workforce boards and local WDBs have very different functions under WIOA. State workforce boards provide assistance to local WDBs, but are responsible for developing and implementing workforce development activities that support all workers and employers in the state. In contrast, local WDBs are working to strengthen local economies and expand workforce opportunities for the local area, using local expertise and labor market information. Local WDBs do this, in part, by working with counties to innovate and deliver workforce development programs. They also oversee the one-stop center delivery system that assists local job seekers and employers.
Implementing WIOA taps the efforts of local elected officials, including county officials. Local elected officials work alongside local WDBs to develop local plans for workforce development (See Key Terms Used in this Study) and implement federal workforce programs. County officials have an important role in local WDBs by appointing board members from the business, labor and education communities as well as representatives from economic and community development agencies. County officials may also sit on the local WDB. Through their positions as local elected officials and on local WDBs, county officials provide oversight and monitor local WDB operations. Counties and local WDBs not only work together on workforce development but also develop and implement strategies that will address the most pressing issues facing local areas, including employment for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Collaboration is an essential element in the success of workforce programs, such as those improving employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. Funded by WIOA, reentry programs are an outcome of the collaboration between local WDBs and counties to improve the labor force participation and employment outcomes of formerly incarcerated individuals and reduce recidivism. Through WIOA, the federal government is a partner in local reentry programs that contribute to an employable and skilled workforce. While it is too early to assess the successes and challenges of implementing WIOA, the results of the 2015 NACo survey provide some early indications of how local WDBs are faring in its implementation to date (See Sidebar on “Implementing WIOA: What’s Working, What’s Challenging”).
Implementing WIOA: What’s Working, What’s Challenging
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) maintains the core principle of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), to improve the U.S. workforce by focusing on occupational skills, employment, retention of employment and increased earnings. WIOA aims to build a stronger, more skilled workforce that can earn good wages, contribute to the economy and help advance America’s position in the global economy. WIOA improves the aims of WIA by providing the needed funding and framework for a modernized, demand driven workforce development system.
An essential component of WIOA’s success going forward is maintaining local governance of workforce development activities. WIOA recognizes that local elected officials and local workforce development boards (Local WDBs) play a critical role in workforce development and the overall economic health of our local communities. WIOA protects local authority in workforce development boards and local areas. It also enhances flexibility to address local workforce challenges.
In replacing WIA, WIOA contains several provisions that have a direct impact on local WDBs and the ways in which the federal government’s workforce investment supports and invests in workers and businesses in local areas. WIOA’s new provisions include:
- Potential re-designation of local areas
- Regional planning across contiguous local areas
- Permitting up to 20 percent of Adult and Dislocated Worker funding to be reserved for incumbent worker training
- Permitting up to 100 percent of funding to be transferred between the Adult and Dislocated Worker programs in a program year
- Changing the indicators used to measure performance
- Requiring a competitive process to select one-stop center operators
- Requiring 75 percent of Youth funding to serve out-of-school youth
Based on the results of the 2015 NACo survey of local WDB executive directors, local WDBs are adapting to WIOA and implementing many of these provisions with relative ease, even that some provisions are more difficult to implement than others (See Figure 1). This analysis is a very early snapshot of how local WDBs are dealing with the implementation of some of WIOA’s provisions. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) will finalize the rules for implementing WIOA in 2016.
Local WDBs’ Experience Implementing WIOA Provisions
Percent of Responding Local WDBs, October−November 2015