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Successfully Navigating Incarceration to Gainful Employment

PA Workforce Development Association hosts panel on reentry and workforce development

“No job, I rob.”

This is how Executive Deputy Secretary of Corrections for Community Corrections and Reentry George M. Little summed up the importance of a living wage job for reentrants from incarceration at a Pennsylvania Workforce Development Association PA@Work virtual panel this week.

Hosted by PWDA Executive Director Carrie Anne Amann, other panelists included Peggy Kershner, Co-Executive Director, Berks Connections / Pretrial Services, and Associate Professor Jordan Hyatt, J.D., Ph.D., from the Drexel University Department of Criminality and Justice Studies.

Amann pointed out that one out of every 25 Pennsylvanians has some involvement in the criminal justice system, and that research shows that implicit bias about incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color.

The panelists agreed that one thing is certain – in today’s economy, all Pennsylvanians are needed to fill the growing number of open jobs.

“Their success is our success,” Executive Secretary Little said. He added that his agency has focused on creating programs inside the correctional system that provide essential job and soft skills training. In addition, Little said, the Department of Corrections works with incarcerated people to address barriers to employment, which are often as simple as a valid ID and social security papers.

Kershner agreed, adding that her organization is in the “life improvement business.”

Hyatt, who conducts research into the public policies informing incarceration, said that Obama-era changes in federal law now allow funding for in-prison classes. “People who receive education while behind bars are 28% less likely to reoffend,” he said. He also pointed out that the easy availability of online information has also changed the experience of people coming out of prison, mostly for the worse.

Kershner agreed, saying no matter how good the job market, people coming out of incarceration face embedded challenges. She discussed a cognitive intervention curriculum now offered by her agency that is designed to improve the ways people think, make decisions, and deal with emotional triggers.

“A lot of employers who use this service say that they wish they could offer it to all of the employees, not just the reentrants,” Kershner said.

PWDA’s PA@Work series seeks to connect leaders to collaborate, strategize, build capacity, and identify innovative solutions that lift up Pennsylvania workers, employers, and communities.

For more information on the series of one-hours webinars, please visit the PWDA’s website at

https://pwda.memberclicks.net/pawork#LearningSeries. The next panel features Dan Jurman, Executive Director, Office of Advocacy & Reform, Office of Governor Tom Wolf, and will focus on the intersection of work and mental health and will convene on Wednesday, October 20 at noon

PA Workforce Development Association