This post addresses the Governor’s 2018‑19 budget proposal to provide $36 million General Fund over two years for local workforce development boards to fund employment training opportunities for at least 1,000 ex‑offenders and to integrate local employment training with programs offered by parole and probation departments. In the post, we (1) provide background on workforce development and employment programs for ex-offenders, (2) describe and assess the Governor’s initiative, and (3) make recommendations regarding the proposal and raise outstanding issues for the Legislature’s consideration.
California’s Workforce Development System. Local workforce development boards (local boards) operate roughly 200 one-stop job centers in California. In these centers, known as America’s Job Centers of California (AJCCs), jobseekers can search online job databases, take courses on resume building, receive individualized career counseling, enroll in career-focused coursework, and participate in on-the-job training. Funding for job services at AJCCs—a total of about $400 million annually—is provided by the federal government under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
The California Workforce Development Board. Each year, federal WIOA funding is allocated to the California Workforce Development Board (State Board). The State Board then distributes WIOA funds to each of the 45 local boards, which use the funds to operate AJCCs within their jurisdiction. In addition to distributing federal funds, the State Board also sets statewide workforce development policy. This policy is reflected in California’s state workforce plan, which the State Board is required to prepare every five years. Under state law, the state workforce plan serves as the “comprehensive framework and coordinated plan for the aligned investment of all federal and state workforce training and employment services funding streams and programs.” The state’s workforce plan lays out key goals, as shown in Figure 1, that guide the activities of the workforce system.
State Workforce Development Goals
Identifying High Demand Jobs and Partnering With Other State Entities. In developing its plan, the State Board works with businesses and labor market experts to identify job fields that are in high demand. It then designs employment training programs to prepare jobseekers for jobs in these industries. In addition, federal law requires the state workforce plan to include jobs programs run by other state entities. These include programs operated by the Employment Development Department; the California Community Colleges; the California Department of Education, which oversees adult education; and the Department of Social Services, which oversees jobs programs in the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids program (the state’s cash assistance program for low-income families) and CalFresh (the state’s food benefit program for low-income households). These programs are included in the plan to ensure that job training programs work together to meet the state’s workforce goals. We note that although some local boards work to coordinate services with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), this currently is not a requirement under state or federal law.
Who Is Eligible to Receive Job Services? Job services are available to all jobseekers, but prioritized for certain types of jobseekers who face challenges in finding and maintaining employment. These priority jobseekers include English language learners, low-income individuals, homeless individuals, seasonal farmworkers, individuals with disabilities, and ex-offenders, among others.
What Job Services Are Provided at AJCCs? AJCCs offer two levels of job services: basic career services and intensive career services. Basic career services include an initial assessment, self-directed job search, and referrals to other job programs. Intensive career services, which cost more and require more staff-time than basic services, are available to priority jobseekers for whom finding and maintaining employment is likely to be more challenging. (Whether a jobseeker receives intensive services depends on the initial assessment conducted by AJCC staff and whether they have priority status.) Intensive career services may include one‑on‑one career counseling, basic skills training, career-oriented coursework, and on-the-job training. In 2016‑17, a total of 88,000 Californians received WIOA career services. About two-thirds of those received basic career services (59,000) and one-third (29,000) received intensive career services. Figure 2 displays the different types of priority jobseekers, including ex-offenders, who received job services in 2016‑17.
Stable Employment Key to Success for Ex-Offenders . . . Research indicates that stable employment is a key to successful reentry back into the community for offenders that have been released recently from state prison or county jail. An ex-offender who finds and maintains a job—and who also has stable housing and avoids substance abuse—is more likely to avoid subsequent offenses.
. . . But Ex-offenders Have Difficulty Finding Work. Individuals who have been recently released from prison or jail have difficulty finding stable employment. Experts have identified several reasons why ex-offenders tend to have low employment rates. These include: (1) low education and job skills; (2) erosion of job skills while incarcerated; (3) reluctance among some employers to hire ex-offenders; (4) laws and licensing requirements that exclude ex-offenders from certain fields, such as nursing, real estate, and education; (5) mental health and substance use challenges; and (6) high rates of unemployment in communities where ex-offenders are released.
In-Prison and Post-Release Efforts to Reduce Recidivism. Rehabilitation programs are generally offered to offenders who are incarcerated in either state prison or county jail, as well as those who are supervised in the community by state parole or county probation. Upon admission to prison, CDCR assesses inmates’ needs and assigns them to programs, including employment-related programs. Employment-related programs consist of: (1) academic education that provides offenders adult basic education, GED courses, and college-level programs; (2) Career Technical Education (CTE) that trains offenders for careers in fields such as masonry, carpentry, and auto repair; and (3) employment preparation that provides job readiness and job search skills for soon-to-be released offenders. CDCR spends about $210 million annually to operate employment-related rehabilitation at state prisons. With this funding, CDCR offers about 74,000 training slots.
Once released, some ex-offenders receive additional services while on parole or probation. These services, referred to as re-entry programs, are similar to in-prison rehabilitation programs but are generally operated by community-based organizations (CBOs) under contract agreements with parole or probation departments. Although most re-entry programs address drug and alcohol use disorders, mental health conditions, and behavioral challenges, some offer job training.
Despite these efforts, many California inmates nevertheless reoffend after their release from prison—46 percent of those released in 2012‑13 returned to prison within three years of their release.
Existing State Program Provides Grants for Ex-Offender Employment Services. The state currently funds a grant program, known as ForwardFocus, through which the State Board awards competitive grants to county partnerships—typically comprised of the county, local board (and their AJCCs), probation department, and local CBOs—who in turn coordinate services and provide integrated job training opportunities to recently released ex-offenders. Grants are awarded on a competitive basis and county partnerships must spend some amount of their own funds (known as a match) in order to receive the grant award. Participating county partnerships are required to integrate the services that are to be provided with grant funds. Since 2014, county partnerships have received about $5 million in total for these purposes and have provided employment services to about 800 recently released ex-offenders. Current law requires the State Board to submit a report to the Legislature about the program’s effectiveness, including an assessment of the viability of integrating workforce programs for ex-offenders. The report, which was due January 1, 2018, has not yet been submitted. It is our understanding that it will be submitted to the Legislature this spring.
Provides $14 Million General Fund for Employment Services for Ex-offenders. The Governor’s 2018‑19 proposal would provide $14 million General Fund over two years to fund a new job training program for ex-offenders at the state’s AJCCs (and their subcontractors). Funds could be used for a variety of services, including English language learning, basic skills and adult education, training stipends, industry-approved certification programs, pre-apprenticeship, and on-the-job training, among others. Based on training cost data from the ForwardFocus grant program, the State Board estimates that about 1,000 ex-offenders would attain job placements as a result of these services. (A somewhat larger number of ex-offenders would receive services.) This represents $14,000 in funding for each ex-offender who attains a job placement.
Provides $20 Million General Fund for Supportive Services as Needed. In addition to direct employment services, the Governor proposes to allocate $20 million General Fund over two years to fund supportive services for ex-offenders who participate in job training. Supportive services are services that an ex-offender may require in order to attend job training. Common supportive services include bus passes, childcare vouchers, and housing assistance. According to the proposal, ex-offenders who participate in employment services would be eligible for up to $5,000 each in supportive services.
Provides $1.75 Million General Fund to Integrate Workforce Training Programs. Under the proposal, the State Board would provide an additional $1.75 million General Fund to local boards for the creation of regional partnerships between the local boards, CDCR, parole centers and county probation departments, and community-based reentry services. Grants would be made to each of the 14 workforce regions based roughly on the number of ex-offenders in each region. According to the administration, implementation grants that facilitate collaboration would help regional partners “package” services and customize job placement based on an ex-offender’s training history and job needs.
Proposal Would Include CDCR in State Workforce Plan. The proposal requires all local entities to develop partnership plans. These plans would outline how each entity intends to integrate services for ex-offenders. One byproduct of this new planning requirement is that the state workforce plan would add CDCR and county probation as official workforce partners.
Some Grant Evaluation Data Would Be Submitted to State Board. The proposal would require local boards to submit to the State Board information about ex-offender participation in grant-funded programs. This would include information about how the grant was implemented, the number of ex-offenders who enrolled in training activities, whether enrollees completed training, and whether participants found employment. It would not, however, require that local boards collect data about whether ex-offenders commit new offenses and subsequently recidivate.
Logic Behind Proposal Makes Sense . . . The main logic of the proposal makes sense: (1) link in-prison CTE, post-release reentry services, and AJCC job training in order to (2) provide ex-offenders better and expanded services, which (3) improve employment outcomes and, as a result, (4) helps ex-offenders remain crime-free. As such, the proposal could help some ex-offenders maintain stable employment (who otherwise would not) and could prevent some ex-offenders from committing a subsequent offense (who otherwise would).
. . . But Several Elements Appear Similar to Current Law. Several major elements of the proposal are based on the existing grant program and therefore are the same, or similar to, current law, raising questions as to the need for a new employment services program. Specifically, the 2018‑19 proposal is similar to current law in the following respects:
Both Fund Similar Employment Services. Under the new proposal, grants could be used to fund employment services that are currently allowed under various other state and federal programs, including those allowed under the state’s current employment program for ex-offenders, the ForwardFocus grant program. Therefore, both programs would fund similar, and potentially identical, types of job services.
Both Require Similar, Though Limited, Data Reporting. The new proposal would require local agencies to report similar data and information to the State Board as is required under the current grant program. Though not identical, the reporting requirements would generally be used to monitor grantee activities and track ex-offender employment outcomes. In neither case are local entities required to track information about subsequent arrests and convictions.
Both Encourage Integrated Services, but Use Different Approaches. The new proposal would provide funds to all regions throughout the state. All local boards would be required to develop plans to integrate workforce services for ex-offenders and would receive funding to do so. Under the existing grant program, in contrast, funds are provided on a competitive basis. To receive funds, grant applicants must partner to deliver employment services to ex-offenders in an integrated manner. According to the ForwardFocus website, grant reviewers are “ . . . looking for projects that work to develop collaborative relationships between county probation, CDCR, community organizations, and local workforce development boards.”
Forthcoming Report Will Provide Opportunity to Reassess Workforce Training for Ex‑Offenders. The State Board is required to evaluate the ForwardFocus program and provide its findings to the Legislature by January 1, 2018. (According to the administration, this report will be submitted later this spring.) The evaluation will include the State Board’s assessment of the “long-term viability” of integrating employment services for ex-offenders. It will also assess whether the program has been effective overall. We note that the Governor’s new proposal is based on the ForwardFocus program. As a result, the report represents a key source of information not just about the design and effectiveness of the ForwardFocus grant program, but also about the design and effectiveness of the Governor’s new proposal. It is not clear why the administration has proposed a new program before results of the existing program have been made available.
New Proposal’s Plan to Allocate Grants Throughout State May Have Drawbacks. As described above, the major difference between the new proposal and the existing grant program is that, although both encourage service integration, the new proposal would provide funds for integration to all regions throughout the state, while the existing program does so on a competitive basis. In order to integrate services on a statewide basis, grants under the new proposal would be allocated according to the number of ex-offenders in each region (or a similar measure). However, distributing grants in this way may be less effective than how grants are distributed under the state’s existing program. Under the existing program, grants are distributed on a competitive basis (taking in to account the quality of applicants and their prior performance) and require a two-to-one match from local entities. Matching requirements increase the total amount of program funding available and encourage only motivated local agencies to participate, helping to ensure that local priorities are in line with the state’s goals. The new proposal would forego these benefits, intending instead to distribute grants across all areas of the state.
We are also concerned that grants under the new proposal may be too small to be effective in some parts of the state. The state’s ex-offender population is concentrated in major cities: three-quarters of supervised ex-offenders reside in ten large counties. Rural areas would likely receive few resources under the proposal. From a practical standpoint, statewide grants in these areas may be insufficient to integrate services or operate employment programs for ex-offenders.
Withhold Action on Governor’s Proposal Until Report Is Made Available. In our view, the Legislature designed the ForwardFocus grant program as a test of whether workforce services for ex-offenders could be integrated at the local level to better assist ex-offenders gain stable employment. (Much like a pilot program, ForwardFocus was implemented on a small scale, for a limited time period, with an evaluation requirement.) The results of this test represent a key source of information for the Legislature to review before deciding whether to increase funding for employment services for ex-offenders. We therefore recommend the Legislature withhold taking action on the Governor’s new proposal until after it has had an opportunity to review the report.
The Legislature will have an opportunity to make changes to the existing grant program based on information from the report. Below, we discuss several potential changes:
How Much Funding Should The Legislature Provide for Ex-Offender Job Services? Based on the effectiveness of the ForwardFocus program (as evaluated in the State Board’s report), the Legislature may wish to continue funding at its current amount, expand the program, or instead direct funding to other priorities. In considering these options, we would note that there is significant unmet demand for employment services (about 800 ex-offenders have received services under ForwardFocus, out of more than 300,000 who are on parole or probation). On the other hand, the ForwardFocus program is relatively small and therefore a large near-term infusion of state resources could prove challenging to administer.
How Could the Legislature Improve the ForwardFocus Grant Program? Based on findings in the report, the Legislature may wish to consider whether the grant program could be improved upon. The Legislature could revisit the eligible uses of grant funds, for instance, if it believes there is reason to change or expand the types of job services that ex-offenders could receive. Additionally, as we recommend later, the Legislature could request new data from grantees, including information about recidivism among past and current job training participants. The Legislature could also specify how large grants should be, how many grants should be made and in what regions, and whether a different matching requirement would be more appropriate. Finally, based on feedback from ForwardFocus grantees, the Legislature could consider whether to provide additional funds for supportive services that help ex-offenders participate in employment programs.
How Should the Legislature Encourage Service Integration? We recommend that the Legislature direct follow-up questions to the State Board related to the potential benefits and challenges of statewide integration. These could include: (1) are local agencies able to integrate services within existing funding, (2) what has prevented integration from occurring in the past, (3) what steps would be needed to integrate CDCR data into the state’s workforce data systems, and (4) are there other local agencies that should be included in efforts to integrate services.
If Legislature Wishes to Provide More Job Services, Augment State’s Existing Program. After reviewing the report on the ForwardFocus program, if the Legislature is interested in increasing funding for employment services for ex-offenders, rather than create a new program as the Governor proposes, we instead recommend that the Legislature augment the existing ForwardFocus grant program. We note that the Legislature’s decision about whether to augment the ForwardFocus program could also incorporate any changes the Legislature wants to make to the program, as we discussed earlier. In most respects, the ForwardFocus grant program is similar to the new proposal. In areas where they differ, primarily regarding how grants are distributed, we believe the ForwardFocus grant program is a better option because augmenting an existing program would build on current efforts, avoid a potentially duplicative program, and help maximize state grant resources (by allocating grants competitively and requiring local entities to match state funds), while still encouraging local entities to integrate the services they offer to ex-offenders.
If Legislature Augments Existing Program, We Recommend Additional Oversight. If the Legislature expands the ForwardFocus grant program, we recommend that it request additional data from grantees and require the State Board to submit this information in an annual report to the Legislature. This information could include: the percentage of participants or past participants that recidivated within one year of their release, the type and cost of job services provided to each participant, and whether participants maintained stable and unsubsidized work six months after finishing the program. Standardized measures similar to these would help the State Board and the Legislature more rigorously evaluate (1) individual grantee performance (in order to allocate grant funds to the most promising programs) and (2) the overall effectiveness of the grant program (in order to make informed decisions about the program’s future).