NC East Alliance

The Untapped Talent Pool Part I: Prison Work Release Programs and The Formerly Incarcerated

November 04, 2021

In North Carolina, work release programs provide employment for 1,100 incarcerated individuals nearing release from prison. They work for businesses in the community developing skills and contacts that will help in getting a job after release. Money earned by the incarcerated helps defray the costs of their imprisonment, pays restitution to victims, and helps support their family. Each year more than 22,000 people are released from North Carolina's state prison system. Many of these formerly incarcerated people will look for employment opportunities. On October 7 NC East and EDPNC hosted a webinar to highlight how companies can access this untapped talent pool.

Lakeshia Jones, Director of Community Work Programs with the North Carolina Department of Public Safety shared with us information on the work release program and how companies can get involved. There are typically 1100-1200 participants at 35 prisons throughout the state. There are 40 apprenticeships within the program including food service, construction, woodworking, upholstery, and more. The basic criteria for participation include minimum custody with 5 years or less, no felony detainers or awaiting trial on felony charges, no major infractions in the last 3 months, and fully vaccinated. Participants typically work for NCDOT, towns, cities, or the correction enterprise plant. Participants can also clear fines, fees, support family, pay child support, restitution and better prepare for reentry through the program. If you have interest in the work release program, please contact Lakeshia at

How can a company get involved with work release programs? An interested business must provide value to the community. The business will fill out an employee interest form to provide basic information. The job offered must pay at least minimum wage and workers can work at any company location. Download the employee interest form here.

Victor Hinnant, Regional Reentry Specialist with the North Carolina Department of Commerce discussed how the Department of Commerce assists companies interested in work release programs. NC Commerce offers bonding for individuals of $5,000-$25,000. This bonding is seen as an “insurance policy” for companies in case of any damages. The bond will cover the employee for up to 6 months. NC Commerce can also provide tax credits for companies involved in the program. The company can receive up to $24,000 in tax credits and they can be help for up to 10 years. Victor also suggested removing any mention of a criminal background on a job application to encourage more applicants. If you would like to learn more about how NC Commerce can assist you with these programs, please contact Victor at

Tom Kulikowski, CEO of Penco products discussed Penco’s involvement and success with the program. Penco products has used the work release program since July 2018 with 6 initial hires. Penco now has 26 workers from the program. Penco has even developed a decision matrix to identify that not all felonies are the same. Tom recalled workers being able to send money to their kids for Christmas and even saving enough money to start a business upon their release. Many prisoners have transferred facilities just to get an opportunity to work for Penco. “If not for second or third chances, many of us would not enjoy our careers or success in our lives.” - Tom Kulikowski, CEO, Penco Products.

If you would like to view the webinar recording please click here

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