Incarceration to Employment: A Guide to the Biden-Harris Fair Chance Strategy
An overview of key initiatives from the Biden-Harris administration’s Incarceration to Employment strategy.
Announced in April 2022, the new Biden-Harris Administration Incarceration to Employment strategy is an expansion of the Obama-Biden Second Chance Initiative. This marks a renewed effort to provide opportunity, support, and services to the more than 600,000 individuals released from prison every year in the U.S. The program creates an interagency effort that bridges both the Departments of Justice and Labor, laying the framework to break the cycle of recidivism that often plagues the criminal justice system to ultimately build more prosperous communities.
Here, we’ll break down key initiatives from the comprehensive strategy for both employees and employers.
Expanding access to federal employment
As a first step in the comprehensive strategy, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Labor (DOL) are announcing their collaboration to invest $145 million over the next two years to provide job skills training and individualized employment and reentry plans for people incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons facilities. The funds will also provide opportunities and support for those who have been released from incarceration. This marks the first time the DOJ will bring job training, reentry support, and expertise to individuals incarcerated in federal prisons.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is also joining the initiative reaffirming the importance of helping formerly incarcerated people reenter society. As a part of Second Chance Month, held every April to acknowledge and champion fair chance opportunity, the OPM launched free webinars for formerly incarcerated individuals to educate them on the federal hiring process.
Additionally, the OPM published a Guide to Federal Employment for Second Chance Applicants. This guide outlines the path applicants should take when navigating the federal government job market, from putting together a resume to applying for the position through the usajob.gov website. OPM also offers training webinars and materials for employers related to recruiting and hiring justice impacted individuals.
More employment initiatives
The Incarceration to Employment strategy also provides additional resources to create and provide job opportunities through various grants, training, programs, and expanded capital resources.
Growth Opportunities focuses on youth who have entered the justice system. This grant dedicates $85 million to provide education and training, paid work experience, mentorship, and leadership development to youth and young adults. The Pathway Home grant commits $55 million for job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training, and pre-release and post-release career counseling for adult individuals who have entered the justice system.
Incentives for employers
Under the new Incarceration to Employment strategy, the DOL has expanded resources related to existing employer incentives designed to encourage and reward companies for employing previously incarcerated individuals. Among these programs is the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, offered to those who hire targeted groups of individuals, including those formerly incarcerated or those previously convicted of a felony. This tax credit is provided through the 2025 tax season and offers, on average, a $2,400 credit per employee.
Another program through the DOL is the Federal Bonding Program (FBP) which has been available since 1966. The Program protects employers against loss related to fraud or dishonest acts of any bonded employee, including but not limited to theft, forgery, larceny, and embezzlement. Each FBP bond has a $5,000 limit with a $0 deductible, covering the first six months of a selected individual’s employment. The bond is also not limited to direct hires or full-time employees, so if the employee is hired through a temp agency or only works on a part-time or temporary basis, they also can be covered.
Updated federal policies employers need to know
The OPM published proposed regulations to remove barriers to federal employment for formerly incarcerated individuals under the bipartisan Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act. Once in place, these regulations will expand the positions covered by the federal government’s “ban the box” policy, which delays inquiries into an applicant’s criminal history until after a conditional offer has been made.
The regulations introduce new procedures to highlight steps for due process and accountability for hiring professionals who are alleged to have violated the “ban the box” procedures.
Updated EEOC resources for employers
There are also several new resources available through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which has updated guides to help employers better assess candidates’ criminal records in relation to the position for which the individual is being considered. Among these factors are the nature and seriousness of the offense, the time that has elapsed since the commission of the crime and completion of the sentence, and the nature of the job.
Additionally, the EEOC published guidance noting that an “employer cannot refuse to hire people simply because they have been arrested.”
Federal, state and local resources
During Second Chance Month, the DOJ also announced the Reentry 2030 Campaign alongside the Incarceration to Employment strategy. This campaign is a partnership between the Correctional Leaders Association, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, and JustLeadershipUSA.
The campaign’s goals include providing states with guidance regarding individual support efforts, creating employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated individuals, and sharing reintegration methods to advance economic mobility, while using data to track progress toward racial equity.
The campaign aims to open lines of communication between states to amplify individual successes and build momentum for nationwide improvement in the reintegration efforts and reduced reincarceration by 2030.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance is also a part of the program and has launched a Reentry Toolkit aimed at local city, county, and community leaders. The Toolkit provides access to seminal publications, research findings, and examples of successful programs to aid local communities and their leaders in assessing current programs and providing a roadmap to identify gaps and solutions to“reinvigorate” current reentry programs and strategies in those communities.
The Toolkit is separated into three distinct parts for ease of access. Part 1, the Fundamentals of Reentry, lays the building blocks to improve people’s lives as they return to their communities. In part 2, Tools of Change, tools are provided to assist with the specific needs of the community. Lastly, in part 3, Resources, additional resources are provided in order to track and map the communities’ efforts.
There are various other grants, programs, and resources for employers and employees under the program. These include expanded healthcare for six-months post-release, access to Department of Housing and Urban Development programs for expanded housing availability, pathways out of loan default and obtaining access to Pell Grants, and investment in digital literacy. These offerings seek to lessen the financial burden and stressors that may contribute to recidivism.
The resounding message from the Biden-Harris Incarceration to Employment strategy says, as a society, we cannot exclude individuals from our communities and workplaces due to past errors. Everyone deserves a chance to make a change and contribute using their abilities. The new strategy provides critical resources to break down barriers which block access to the pursuit of a meaningful career, housing, and healthcare for hundreds of thousands of returning citizens.
Without support, understanding, and forgiveness, many face the cycle of recidivism. Employers have an opportunity to engage these candidates to grow a more diverse workforce, improving both their own bottom line as well as the communities around them.
For more fair chance hiring resources, find the Fair Chance Hiring Resource Hub below. The Hub offers ebooks, blogs, webinars, success stories, and interactive content to help you build a successful fair chance hiring program.
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