About the Prison Reentry Strategies Project
Prison Reentry Strategies at the Bluhm Legal Clinic came about because of the concerns of Malcolm C. Young. Serving as Executive Director of the John Howard Association of Illinois at the outset of the 2008 recession, Young heard many accounts of returning prisoners who, despite doing everything required of them, were unable to find work. In fact, the kind of jobs that returning prisoners traditionally filled were disappearing in Illinois and in many other states.
With the Clinic as a sponsor, Young was awarded a 2010 Soros Senior Justice Fellowship to advance the employment side of prisoner reentry in the midst of a recession and severe job loss. The Project’s work focused on developing and promoting new approaches to reentry and to develop new, effective, shared-cost program models that will connect returning prisoners who need jobs to jobs that need to be done. As the recession’s adverse impact on employment has eased, the Project applied what it had learned about employment reentry to address the challenge of bringing returning prisoners and members of disadvantaged and poor communities into a new, technologically demanding world of work.
Starting in January 2010, law students participating in Prison Reentry Strategies engaged in legal research, investigations and interviews with business owners, returning prisoners, corrections officials and program administrators, making use of what was learned to develop new approaches and program models that would better enable returning prisoners to find jobs in a tight labor market.
Prisoner Reentry Strategies concluded its work with students in the fall of 2012.
Malcolm Young continued research and program modeling throughout 2013.
In the summer of 2014, the Soros Foundations asked Young to contribute to its efforts to answer questions about the transformation of work in an increasingly technological world and how returning prisoners might be brought into the work of the future. The Returning Prisoner and the Future of Work (pdf) is a capstone to Prison Reentry Strategies and the work done by students, charting invigorated approaches to the challenge of employment-related prisoner reentry yet grounded in sound principles and actual experience. Among other insights:
- Programs providing returning prisoners with the intense and prolonged education and training necessary to bring them into the world of work should be integrated with educational and training programs for all eligible residents of low income and disadvantaged communities as part of a strategy to reduce income inequality; and
- Returning prisoners should be provided vocational education and training in specific, technologically-relevant skills through programs devised through a collaboration of private business, corrections staff, vocational and educational professionals, unions and returning prisoners.
- Corrections, businesses, inmates and labor should negotiate mutually-beneficial agreements to employ prisoners while in custody in new and expanding businesses, targeting jobs that will be needed to repair infrastructure and remedy the effects of climate change.
Recommendations for employment related reentry are distilled in the forthcoming briefing sheet, “Reinvigorating Reentry: Recommendations for Bringing Prisoners into Full Employment from the Program for Prison Reentry Strategies.”