Reviews the existing research about the effect of providing justice-involved youth with employment skills before, during, and after incarceration; suggests resources for practitioners working with justice-involved youth, and makes recommendations for further research.

Aimed at both researchers and practitioners, this literature review synthesizes the evidence on the effectiveness of employment skills programs targeting justice-involved youth. The author does not conduct primary research, but rather summarizes findings from studies conducted across the United States in the past twenty years and includes over 50 resources in the bibliography. The resource may help practitioners with developing employment skills programs that meet the needs of justice-involved youth and to inform future research by highlighting gaps in the current knowledge about such programs.

“When incarcerated youth face the prospect of reentering the community, they have many obstacles to overcome. There are often employment requirements in the terms of their parole or aftercare and if they fail to obtain and maintain employment, they may reenter the justice system instead of successfully reentering society. While research shows employment matters significantly for a successful transition from incarceration back in to the community, there is limited information on which programs or supports positively impact post incarceration employment. Practitioners have the challenge of locating and choosing curriculum, interventions, or supports with little to go on as to which are the best choices for their population in terms of teaching employability skills. This article focuses on services and supports for teaching employability skills at each of the stages of the juvenile justice process – before, during, and after incarceration. The psychological damage to youth resulting from incarceration is examined as well as the impact on obtaining and maintaining employment post incarceration. Resources are provided for practitioners to find evidence-based interventions and supports for the youth with whom they work. Calls for future research are detailed” (p.41).

Promising practices highlighted in the resource include trauma-informed care provided by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the “life course theory” (p.45) conceptual framework, and the “Desktop Guide to Quality Practice for Working with Youth in Confinement” (p.48).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The resource showcases findings from multiple studies that examine the effect of employment services programs on justice-involved youth. The primary tenet of the paper is that, “[o]f all factors that impact the success or failure of reentering society post incarceration…employability skills are paramount. In summarizing critical areas for reentry programming, Liddell et al. (2014) listed employment as an ‘essential element’ of any reentry or transition plan and stressed the importance of building upon ‘youths’ strengths and assets to promote pro-social development’” (p.42). The author organizes findings into programs that target youth “before incarceration” (p.47), “during incarceration” (p.48), and “after incarceration” (p. 49). They include the following: • “[I]nterventions before a youth begins down a negative pathway, as early academic challenges are identified…can help set struggling youth on an alternative path to positive life outcomes. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention advises that any intervention should address risk factors that could lead to delinquency as well as protective factors that could help children cope with those risk factors” (p.47). • “Time during incarceration should be used for rehabilitation, education, and personal growth. As previously mentioned, the experience of incarceration can be damaging for youth who are already facing compounding challenges. To avoid causing harm or further psychological damage, the time during a youth’s incarceration should be carefully managed….[A]ny and all effort is of value, yet using evidence-based practices and programs is highly recommended” (p.48). • “Almost all those who are incarcerated are eventually released back in to the community…Therefore, valuable services aid in easing reentry through aftercare supports for formerly incarcerated youth…. Examples of these services may include: independent living programs…employment support; and social skills training” (p.49). The author concludes by recommending that additional research be conducted in three areas: “the effectiveness of programs and practices, the impact of these programs on desistance or recidivism, and the effect of community-based alternatives on employment outcomes” (p.51). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)