Preferred Employers Program


  • Public Advocates in Community Reentry (PACE), Indiana

Focus Area

  • Criminal Justice

“Every year an estimated 5,000 individuals return from incarceration to Indianapolis. Of those, we serve around 3,000. Most do not have a high school diploma and the majority are unemployed. They are often experiencing homelessness, lack of family support, issues associated with addiction and mental health, and that’s just to name a few. Our goal at PACE is to make sure that all of them feel empowered to make the best of their second chance.”

Rhiannon Edwards, Executive Director, PACE

The Issue

People face a myriad of unique challenges when they make the transition back into their communities after incarceration. Finding housing, reconnecting with family, dealing with physical or mental health issues, finding a job, getting a cell phone—there’s a lot to figure out amidst the big picture of making a fresh start.

But putting all of these pieces into place is enormously challenging, and fresh starts are easier in theory than reality. A criminal record limits opportunity, most notably when it comes to finding work—unemployment is highest in the two years post-release—and renting an apartment. This makes it hard for people to gain the solid footing they need to successfully transition back into community life and chart a new path forward. The most recent data from the Indiana State Department of Corrections shows that the state’s recidivism rate is over 36%. That means more than a third of Hoosiers released from prison to begin their fresh start end up back in the criminal justice system because of a new conviction or parole violation.

Programs exist that attempt to address one of the major building blocks to successful reentry—employment. With a reliable income, the other pieces can start to fall into place. Most of these programs provide resources to connect individuals with employers who recognize the potential of previously incarcerated men and women. But unfortunately, many of these programs focus on temporary job placement alone and aren’t set up to address the multiple challenges that might interfere with someone’s success at work or show the way to a possible career path.

The burden of overcoming those challenges usually falls on the shoulders of the individual, not the employer. They’re on their own when it comes to finding transportation or childcare, acquiring both the hard and soft skills that are key for being part of a work team, or even finding the money to buy a set of professional clothes or a uniform or protective gear required before they can be on the job site. On top of those practicalities, the person may be working through trauma from their incarceration, living with a new commitment to sobriety, or feeling the loss of support from family and friends who moved on while they were locked up. All of this can affect someone’s ability to show up and give it their all at work.

Formerly incarcerated people looking for work need trusted advocates who understand the complexities of post-release life. While research has been done on reentry job matching programs that connect clients to temporary employment, the evidence shows that they aren’t producing the outcomes necessary for long-term success—namely, permanent employment. We need to understand what holistic supports are needed to help clients find permanent, quality jobs and to be successful at work and in post-release life. We have to learn more, because those leaving the criminal justice system deserve a path to successful, long-term employment—an empowering force when it comes to making the most of their second chance.

The Intervention

Public Advocates in Community Reentry (PACE) in Indianapolis provides programming to prepare those who are exiting the state and local correctional system to successfully enter the workforce. PACE goes beyond typical employment matching reentry programs with its Preferred Employers Program—a robust network of Indianapolis-area employers who are dedicated to working with PACE and providing quality employment opportunities to previously incarcerated individuals. While enrolled in the program, clients work closely with an employment coach to identify their job preferences and any skills or other assets needed to reach their employment goals. Then, the client is introduced to businesses in the Preferred Employers Program network that may be a good fit. All along the way, their employment coach also serves as an advocate and liaison between the client and employer and supports the client—for as long as the client prefers—with navigating other aspects of post-release life.

Research Question

How does access to a Preferred Employers Program--which individually matches previously-incarcerated clients with quality jobs within a dedicated employer network and provides other job-retention services--impact client outcomes related to recidivism, housing stability, employment, earnings, and job retention?

Intended Outcomes

  • Clients who have access to the Preferred Employers Program will have lower rates of recidivism than those who only receive a list of employers who are hiring.
  • They will also see improved outcomes related to employment, earnings, housing stability, and job retention. 

Research Study Design

The PACE Preferred Employers Program study is a randomized controlled trial designed to identify the impact that access to a more personalized employment placement program has on recidivism, job retention, and other outcomes. 

Clients who have completed PACE’s Advancing Your Career workshop, have worked with their case manager to address any possible barriers to employment, and are referred to PACE’s employment services by their case manager are eligible for this study.

To run a rigorous impact evaluation, the LEO research team randomly assigns all eligible clients to one of two groups. Those randomized into the treatment group enter the Preferred Employers Program and start working with an employment coach. Those randomly assigned to the control group receive standard employment services, which include a list of employers that have employed PACE clients in the past and may have current job openings. 

Following the conclusion of the study, LEO researchers will compare recidivism, job retention, and other outcomes of those who received the Preferred Employers Program services to those who did not.

(Photo credit: PACE)


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