Policy Document: Transition of Inmates into the Labour Market

Michela Scalpello, Sandra Scicluna, Sarah Farrugia

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


The scope of this policy is that of offering a smoother transition for prisoners into the labour market.

Studies continually emphasise that the transition from prison to the community is one of the toughest changes an ex-offender will have to go through (LeBel, Burnett, Maruna, & Bushway, 2008). Often released with a little money, no savings and no reasonable accommodation they struggle on a daily basis: due to their criminal record and the stigma that comes with it, they find it difficult to find suitable employment yet without a job they cannot make ends meet to sort their lives out. In fact these latter ex-prisoners with no suitable accommodation and employment upon release are 43% more likely to reoffend (Ministry of Justice, 2013). Consequently, prisoners need greater support when, and for when, they are released. Being released to homelessness and without a job is not giving them any motivation to quit crime, neither is it providing public safety (Social Exclusion Unit, 2002).

Reasons for not having stable employment upon release vary: perhaps it is a case of a criminal record, and a lack of employers who are willing to give an ex-prisoner a second chance. However, it is also a case of a lack of skills. From the dispiriting point of view of an an ex-prisoner from Adorjan and Chui's (2014) study in Hong Kong, 'the main reason [ex-offenders are] unemployed is that we have no special skills to work.' He went on to say that finding an occupation is a very important factor when it comes to not offending again. This lack of ‘special skills’ is an obstacle easily overcome with the right prison programmes; limited academic and vocational skills, literacy problems, lack of skills and work experience, and low self-esteem can all be tackled when the offender is still incarcerated, making the prisoner more ‘job-ready’ (Nally, Lockwood, Knutson, & Ho 2012).

Working on the above facets, this policy aims to highlight the importance of employment in prisoner reintegration and the need for more formal employment programmes to aid the transition into the labour market. Currently, employment programmes are limited due to a variety of reasons such as security issues, logistical issues such as transport, lack of partnerships with outside entities, lack of inclusion of all inmates in prison trades, a need for improvement and adherence to the prisoner care plan, more cooperation with community based offender interventions and a general penal stance towards incarceration. This is despite the literature and statistics proving that recidivists are frequently those released inmates who couldn't get a job. At stated above, this lack of knowing that to do to secure a job might be due to the fact that they are not properly trained in prison (Biswalo, 2011).

This particular policy will be focusing on the theme of prisoners’ transition into the labour market and will therefore be focusing on the psycho-social benefits of employment and suggestions for more formal employment programmes based on EU literature and human rights guidelines. This policy will explore examples of formal employment programmes such as community work, trades and public-private partnerships. It will also stress the importance of discarding penal attitudes of incarceration in favour of more rehabilitative views and that the care plan / reintegration plan of each prisoner is considered as a key guideline for which employment programme is best suited to each particular inmate’s needs.
This policy will benefit a number of individuals and entities. First and foremost, each individual prisoner would have something to gain from having a policy about their transition into the labour market, as this might provide a comprehensive set of guidelines that might inform future rehabilitative practices in restorative justice. Furthermore, this policy would also benefit the prison staff, as the likelihood is that when prisoners are gainfully employed, they will have a higher sense of meaning and purpose, which might make them more amenable to supervision. This policy would also benefit key actors in the labour market, especially if public-private partnerships are set up to facilitate extra-mural employment for inmates. Society at large would also benefit from this policy as the more offenders start to re-build their bonds with society, the more they will have a stake in conformity and the less likely they are to re-offend. Reduction in recidivism may mean less prisoners depending on taxpayers’ money and more people in the workforce contributing their skills and/or services. It is also a known fact that when prisoners reoffend, there is a higher chance that they will be away from their families, thus creating various familial and social problems in society. Aiding prisoners in their transition into the labour market would ensure that continuous support is given and a lesser likelihood of inmates falling back into their old lifestyles, reoffending, reincarceration and being absent from their family life. Having a family is also one of the main causes of desistance for many individuals. Therefore, it has the potential to be a major factor in prisoners’ re-building their lives after incarceration.

Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyEuropean Commission
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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