Washington, D.C. — As of 2020, nearly 96,000 young adults ages 18 to 24 were incarcerated in the United States. This large-scale incarceration of young people has crucial consequences that affect them long after their release.
With most individuals in state or federal prisons reporting their first incarceration before they turned 24 years old, and with young adult incarceration disproportionately affecting young men of color, as well as LGBT and disabled people, government officials must take action to make sure that reentering young people can reach self-sufficiency through work and live fulfilling lives.
A new Center for American Progress report outlines four key strategies that states and the federal government should adopt to ensure that reentering young adults have access to employment-enabling resources and quality job opportunities. The four strategies are as follows:
- Guarantee access to photo identification (IDs) upon release from incarceration. Too many people released from incarceration lack access to an accepted, legal form of identification, creating a barrier to employment and preventing people from accessing essential resources and services, such as housing, health care, and public benefits. Therefore, states should facilitate access to IDs during reentry .
- Ensure access to a social safety net that provides financial stability and enables employment. In order to participate in employment, people must first have their basic needs met. Yet many reentering young adults are not aware of or able to access programs that could provide support. Governments should expand access to social safety net programs to help reentering young people meet their basic needs, so that they have the stability necessary to pursue education, training, or employment opportunities.
- Adequately fund workforce development programs dedicated to reentering young adults. Although many reentering young people are interested in receiving training, they lack the education or work experience to succeed in the labor market. Governments should increase funding for reentry services and employment opportunities that target young people.
- Enact employment policies that facilitate access to the labor market. The social stigma of incarceration and exclusionary employment policies and practices limit reentering young people’s access to the labor market. Governments should adopt measures that allow for automatic record clearance and enact fair chance licensing and hiring laws to expand access to quality job opportunities.
“Adopting these reentry strategies will have several meaningful impacts for reentering young people and communities,” said Allie Preston, a senior policy analyst for Criminal Justice Reform at CAP and co-author of the report. “It will improve the lives of reentering individuals and their families, reduce the racial wealth gap, and benefit community safety by improving access to resources and opportunities needed to break cycles of incarceration.”
“These strategies will also benefit our economy by increasing the pool of skilled workers and increasing participation in the labor market,” added Marina Zhavoronkova, a senior fellow at CAP and co-author of the report. “Now is the time for Congress, state legislatures, and state agencies to act to ensure that reentering young people have what they need to find employment and begin building their futures.”
Read the report: “How To Improve Employment Outcomes for Young Adults Leaving Incarceration” by Marina Zhavoronkova, Allie Preston, Justin Schweitzer, and Akua Amaning
Read the accompanying fact sheet: “Fact Sheet: Addressing Employment Barriers for Young Adults Leaving Incarceration” by Marina Zhavoronkova, Allie Preston, Justin Schweitzer, Akua Amaning, and Arohi Pathak
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