Panel Paper: Successes and Challenges in Jail-Based American Job Center Service Provision: Findings from the Department of Labor’s Linking to Employment Activities Pre-Release Evaluation

Saturday, November 10, 2018
8226 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Samina Sattar1, Alix Gould-Werth2, Ivette Gutierrez3, Jennifer Henderson-Frakes3 and Jillian Stein1, (1)Mathematica Policy Research, (2)Washington Center for Equitable Growth, (3)Social Policy Research Associates

In the past decade, several prison-based initiatives have aimed to integrate employment services into the correctional system with the hope that coordinated intervention pre- and post-release would help returning citizens integrate into employment more quickly. While these initiatives have shown mixed success, much less is known about the efficacy of pre- and post-release employment interventions implemented with individuals exiting jails.

In response to growing interest in jail-based initiatives, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) awarded Linking to Employment Activities Pre-release (LEAP) grants to 20 local workforce investment boards in 2015 to pilot jail-based AJCs that would support the reentry of participants and directly link them to community-based AJCs upon release. This paper presents results from a collection of five briefs about lessons learned from the implementation of the LEAP grants. The analysis is part of a larger implementation evaluation funded by DOL’s Chief Evaluation Office that collected data through site visits, interviews and focus groups with staff and participants, and grantee performance reports. The evaluation was designed to provide DOL with feedback on the successes and challenges of these efforts and lessons that could inform future programming.

Three areas emerged as crucial aspects of providing linked pre- and post-release services:

Strengthening participant engagement by building strong relationships before release. Staff and participants viewed case managers as the strongest influence on participants’ responsiveness to services, reporting that the most effective case managers treated incarcerated participants as “human beings” rather than as inmates; showed a profound level of personal caring and dedication to participants’ success; and had dynamic personalities that inspired participants and laid important groundwork for post-release contact and engagement.

Proactively addressing barriers to post-release participation. Sites had varying success in reaching and engaging individuals after release. Case managers reported that participants were often released without advance notice, making it hard to discuss discharge plans with participants prior to release. The experiences of the LEAP grantees suggest that workforce and corrections agencies that proactively address the transportation needs, scheduling challenges, and financial barriers of participants are better able to keep participants engaged and help them succeed.

Coordination of data between jail and workforce entities. The implementation of LEAP necessitated coordination and data sharing across corrections and workforce agencies. Jail-based AJC staff often relied on corrections data to identify eligible participants, recruit them, and plan for their release. Sites where staff had easy access to corrections data and were able to access the workforce agency’s MIS from within the jail had an easier time recruiting and serving participants. Implementing data access and sharing agreements between the corrections and workforce systems, minimizing the number of databases staff used, and identifying other strategies to link data could improve service delivery and reduce staff burden for data entry.

Full Paper: