OPINION: How can Beshear’s prison-to-work initiative reduce recidivism rates?


Hasan Almasi

Recidivism, the act of reoffending, is all too common in local principalities. Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash.

Dia Cohen

According to the Prison and Policy Initiative as of 2021, Kentucky’s incarceration rate stands above the national rate (664 per 100,000) at 930 per 100,000. Each year, around 16,000 inmates are released back into the population. During the community re-entry process, prisoners experience an extensive range of stressors. This stress derives from trying to find a house, a job and build connections after their time spent away from the outside world. Ashleigh LaCourse, a doctoral student at the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, argues that this reintegration stress is what primarily creates repeat offenders. 

On Nov. 7, 2022, Andy Beshear, advocated for a “prison-to-work” initiative that could potentially lessen the stress prisoners feel during their transition. Beshear’s administration has aligned with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to ensure the initiative comes to fruition. Considering how our labor force participation rate currently stands at 58%, this initiative will not only provide jobs for prisoners but also boost our workforce participation. The initiative will match low-employment occupations with prisoners in need. Interviews will be conducted virtually, allowing prisoners to potentially have a job immediately after being released. This initiative increases economic activity while also giving prisoners a stable starting point. 

Joan Petersilia, the president of the American Society of Criminology, highlights social barriers ex-prisoners experience in the community. 

“A recent survey in five major U.S. cities revealed that 65 percent of all employers said they would not knowingly hire an ex-offender [regardless of the offense],” Petersilia writes.  

People fear the reintegration of felons into the community due to further violence that may accompany their introduction. However, prisons strip prisoners of their individuality and savings, leaving them economically unstable upon their release. This economic instability is what often leads to recidivism, as many must turn to illegal means in order to survive without a job.

Furthermore, although the prisoner has been released from prison and fulfilled their sentence, the community still views them as a convict and a threat. They are labeled as a social deviant. This sequestration along with the financial implications are what increase recidivism rates.

According to Nihal Deo and Mehar Kaur, students of Gujarat National Law University, “labeling usually has two aftermaths, the first being that an individual’s self-image is altered along with his social stigma. The perception of being a deviant in society takes over the individual’s true self,” they write.  

As labor force participation decreases across our state, this initiative can assist in filling the gap. According to KentuckianaWorks, this “gap” is mostly concentrated on people who stay at home and take care of their families. A fear that may arise with the programs is that the new influx of prisoners in the workforce will overstimulate the economy, and therefore take jobs from law-abiding citizens. However, at times when workforce activity is low, ex-prisoners can become valuable assets to our economy, as they will take unenviable jobs that the average American doesn’t want to work. 

Programs like “prison-to-work” should be more widely implemented, as they aid prisoners in their reintegration into the community as well as increase the economic yield of communities.