Connecting Reentry Project (RP) Participants to In-Demand Local Industries: Insights from RP Grant Programs (Issue Brief)

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Connecting Reentry Project (RP) Participants to In-Demand Local Industries: Insights from RP Grant Programs (Issue Brief)

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For two decades, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has invested substantial funding toward programs serving justice-involved individuals. Among its recent investments, DOL awarded over $243 million in Reentry Projects (RP) grant programs between 2017 and 2019 to improve participants’ employment and justice outcomes. DOL prioritized awarding grants to programs that were evidence-informed, and many went to experienced providers. They were awarded across a broad range of intermediaries and non-profit community-based organizations serving a total of 17,361 participants across 34 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico. RP grants were 36-39 months long and were at different phases when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. RP grantees served a total of 9,098 adults (individuals over 24) and 8,263 young adults (individuals between ages 18 and 24) after their release from jail or prison.

In 2017, the Chief Evaluation Office, in collaboration with the Employment and Training Administration funded the Reentry Project Grants Evaluation. This implementation and impact evaluation aims to identify and evaluate promising practices used in reentry employment programs, which are comprehensive strategies to address the range of challenges formerly incarcerated adults and young adults who have been involved in the justice system face in making a successful transition back to the community.

This brief draws on data collected from virtual site visits with 27 RP grantees to identify the industries grantees commonly focused on, describe industry-specific training they used, discuss the development of industry partnerships, and provide insights for connecting individuals with justice involvement to locally in-demand industries. Data included interviews with 33 employers; together with grantee interviews, the visits highlighted successes and challenges grantees experienced when engaging and partnering with employers.

Key findings include:

  • The 27 sites identified three top industries for partnering, and their industry-specific training including: 1) Construction-Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification training; pre-apprenticeships and apprenticeships; National Center for Construction Education and Research training; welding, carpentry, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning training; 2) Food and Hospitality-ServeSafe certification, other culinary training programs, on-the-job training, and unpaid internships; and 3) Transportation, Logistics, and Warehousing-certification, forklift operation, commercial driver’s license (CDL) training, and on-the-job training from employers.
  • Eleven employers mentioned being satisfied with RP program partners and enjoyed being able to provide work to justice-involved individuals.
  • One of the greatest challenges the grantees encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic was maintaining and building partnerships due to high staff turnover, and training centers closures.