Strengthening Workforce Training and Reintegration Supports for Young-Adult Returning Citizens

Apprentice working with mechanic

Incarcerated and formerly incarcerated youth and young adults face unique challenges to furthering their education, acquiring skills for in-demand occupations and industries, and obtaining living-wage employment. While in prison, they often have limited opportunities to access education and training. Less than half of states give incarcerated people access to postsecondary education, and more than 25 states limit opportunities based on the type of crime committed or the length of sentence. Other issues arise upon release and re-entry. Prison training systems tend to be disconnected from external skill-building programs, making it difficult to continue to make progress in a particular pathway upon release. Additionally, many states ban former prisoners from certain industries, which can render skills gained while in prison inapplicable.

With justice-involved individuals facing complex and persistent barriers, the PROMISE Center seeks to identify approaches with the potential to help large numbers of justice-involved young adults connect to supports needed to gain access to living-wage jobs and successfully reintegrate into society.

Our work will begin with a focus on incarcerated and formerly incarcerated young adults (ages 18 to 24). We will conduct a landscape analysis of the current evidence base on programs that engage justice-involved young adults in education and training, both pre- and post-release. Recognizing that these issues disproportionately affect individuals of color, we will pay close attention to programs explicitly designed to address the needs and strengths of young adults of color in culturally responsive ways.

We will use learnings from this research to identify programs that appear to be “positive deviants”—that is, programs with notable track records of success engaging justice involved persons and helping them:

  • Enroll in and complete a postsecondary credential post-release;
  • Earn an industry-recognized credential;
  • Secure employment in a high-wage, high-growth industry sector; and/or
  • Start their own business.

Our hope is to identify promising programs and forge technical assistance and research partnerships to co-develop learning agendas that will help expand the evidence base on and availability of effective approaches to support justice-involved young adults.

The PROMISE Center works to develop, build, and measure the impact of innovations that can increase economic opportunity and mobility in the U.S. at scale. The PROMISE Center is directly supported by the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR’s $100+ million five-year investment to advance equity in several important areas: workforce development, education, public safety and policing, and health.