Different types of employment

Obtaining gainful employment is often difficult for formerly incarcerated people.  Many formerly incarcerated individuals have low levels of education and lack marketable skills that will allow them to earn wages that adequately support themselves and their families. In addition, many formerly incarcerated people have sporadic employment histories due to periods of incarceration and substance abuse, which makes it difficult for them to complete for positions.

Even when formerly incarcerated individuals get their lives together and obtain pertinent skills and education, they are still judged by employers for their criminal histories.  Some formerly incarcerated individuals are permanently excluded from some fields of employment (e.g., banking and working with children). Many employers have job applications that ask applicants to list their past convictions and exclude formerly incarcerated individuals at the front door.  If formerly incarcerated individuals are able to get beyond the application process and land interviews, employers still routinely conduct background checks as a pre-employment requirement. The process of hoping an employer will look beyond their criminal histories and give them a chance to prove themselves can become frustrating and lead to feelings of hopelessness, which leads to recidivism.

Data from the Santa Clara County Probation Department indicates that the majority of moderate- and high-risk probationers are unemployed. Overall:

  • Almost one fifth (19%) of respondents were employed full time.
  • The same percentage (19%) of respondents was employed part time.
  • A small percentage (11%) of respondents did not have what they considered to be satisfactory employment.
  • Just over half (51%) of respondents were unemployed. Particular subgroups have even higher rates of unemployment. Women, African Americans, high-risk formerly incarcerated individuals, and probationers with a history of state or federal prison were all more likely to be unemployed.  More than two thirds (68%) of high-risk probationers are unemployed compared with 21% of low-risk probationers. 

Similar patterns can be seen in the skill levels of probationers. Overall:

  • Over one third (38%) of probationers reported being unskilled.
  • The same percentage (38%) of probationers reported being semi-skilled.
  • Nearly one fifth (19%) of probationers reported having labor and white-collar skills.
  • A very small percentage (2%) of probationers identified as homemakers.
  • Just a bit more (4%) of probationers reported attending school full-time.

Young probationers, women, African Americans, and high-risk probationers are even more likely to be unskilled. Nearly half (43%) of high-risk probationers are unskilled compared with 30% of low-risk probationers.


To increase the number and percentage of formerly incarcerated individuals successfully participating in and completing job training/preparation programs that will lead to gainful employment.


  1. Develop targeted services and programs to increase the employment rate of formerly incarcerated individuals.  Specifically, develop support for workforce services that address the impact of a criminal record on access to employment opportunities.
  2. Develop and enhance job-specific training and certification programs during incarceration.
  3. Work to remove questions about criminal history from county employment applications used during the initial application stage.  Exceptions might include sensitive positions in public safety and children’s services or as determined by the agency.
  4. Encourage use of available financial incentives for hiring people with criminal records through outreach to business/employers.
  5. Create an efficient process for accessing employment history records during incarceration from the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation and county correction.


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