Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Elizabeth Speck completes dissertation in the School of Human and Organizational Development

Formerly Incarcerated Human Services Professionals and Aspirants: Experiences of Workforce Entry and Career Development -- Elizabeth Speck

This dissertation describes the experiences of individuals who have been formerly incarcerated, who have or are pursuing post-prison professional experience in the field of human services. Applying a theoretical lens of structural inequality, a qualitative study was designed to address the research question, What barriers and supports do formerly incarcerated people experience in entering the human services workforce? The researcher interviewed 25 participants using a semi-structured depth methodology, and thematically analyzed interview transcripts. Participants had in common that they had served at least one year in prison, and had been living in the community for at least 3 months; differences across the sample included length of sentence, length of time post-release, education level, type of work, employment status, race and ethnicity, gender, and age. Results yielded 9 themes upon which participants consistently reflected: getting a foot in the door: first jobs, self-disclosure, professional boundaries, strengths that may stem from prison, deficits that may stem from prison, what works in the workplace, frustrated expectations, the money, and parole. Notable findings include that participants’ paths to career entry were heterogeneous; that incarceration history produces both barriers and strengths to career development in the human services workforce; and self-identification of professional strengths in stress management, nonjudgmental counseling stance, and trauma sensibility. The findings have implications for effective practice in reentry employment programs and human service hiring and staff development. As both professionals working in and recipients of human services, human services professionals with incarceration histories can offer impactful leadership and informed insight into social problems and human services organizations’ responses and processes. Recommendations center around incorporating criminal justice history into the concept of a diverse workforce in the human services, and capacity building for hiring and fostering career advancement for human service professionals with incarceration histories. This qualitative study is a starting point for understanding the experiences of formerly incarcerated human service professionals, and is limited by a lack of triangulation. Directions for future research are proposed, including applying an audit methodology to garner quantitative insight into implicit or explicit discriminatory hiring practices among human service organizations for applicants with criminal records.

Key words: formerly incarcerated, structural inequality, racism, intercultural competence, prison reentry, human services, social service, workforce development, employment

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