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Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing

25.4 Workforce Reentry Programs

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing25.4 Workforce Reentry Programs

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the purposes and different types of workforce reentry programs
  • Explain the benefits and challenges to workforce reentry programs related to mental illness and substance use
  • Identify ways in which the psychiatric-mental health nurse can support workforce reentry programs to benefit clients

Workforce reentry programs are critical in the realm of rehabilitation and individual empowerment. These programs span the gaps between periods of absence—be it due to mental health treatment, substance misuse recovery, incarceration, or some combination of these—and successful integration back into the workforce. Each type of program, whether focused on vocational training, counseling, education, or other specialized approaches, addresses the unique challenges faced by individuals in their journey toward reentry. By recognizing the diverse needs and circumstances of these clients, these programs offer tailored pathways that lead not only to financial stability but also to personal growth, restored dignity, and a renewed sense of purpose. This intricate network of programs brings reintegration to life, enabling individuals to regain control and contributing to a safer, more supportive community for all.

Workforce Reentry Programs Defined

A workforce reentry program is a structured initiative designed to support individuals as they transition back into the workforce after a period of absence, often due to circumstances, such as mental health treatment, substance misuse recovery, or incarceration. These programs aim to address the unique challenges faced by participants during reintegration, which can include gaps in job skills, stigma associated with their absence, and the need for specialized support.

According to NAMI (2024), the incarcerated population in the United States has a significantly higher rate of individuals with a history of mental illness and/or substance use disorders, making this group especially vulnerable after their release. Nearly two in five members of the incarcerated population has a history of mental illness, twice the average rate in the United States (NAMI, 2024). The vast majority of the incarcerated population will be released and face reentry into society, a period that is often stressful and filled with risk for these clients who may experience loss of resources, stigma, and relapse. Most workforce reentry programs are designed with the post-incarceration population in mind.

Workforce reentry programs provide a range of services, including vocational counseling, skills training, job placement assistance, workplace accommodations, and ongoing support. The goal is to empower participants to regain financial independence, build self-esteem, develop job-related skills, and overcome the stigma often associated with mental health conditions. By promoting recovery, improving overall well-being, and fostering a supportive work environment, these programs play a crucial role in enhancing the quality of life for mental health clients while contributing to their successful reentry into the workforce and society.

Purpose of Workforce Reentry Programs

Workforce reentry programs aim to address the complex challenges individuals face as they strive to reintegrate into society, rebuild their lives, and secure stable employment. These programs serve as a crucial bridge to successful reintegration, recognizing that the path to recovery, rehabilitation, and reentry is intertwined with gaining meaningful employment.

The primary purpose of these programs is to break the cycle of recidivism by providing participants with the necessary tools, skills, and support to overcome the unique barriers they encounter. Mental health and substance misuse diagnoses often contribute to a range of challenges, including low self-esteem, lack of employable skills, social stigma, and a history of criminal activity. Workforce reentry programs aim to mitigate these obstacles by offering counseling, therapy, skill-building workshops, vocational training, and more, tailored to the individual needs of participants.

By providing participants with access to education, training, and job placement opportunities, these programs foster a sense of self-worth and dignity, allowing participants to redefine themselves beyond their past mistakes or struggles. Additionally, workforce reentry programs enhance public safety by assisting reintegration into society where gainful employment provides a positive and productive alternative to criminal activity.

Furthermore, employment is not only a means of financial stability, but also a source of purpose, routine, and social connection. By addressing mental health and substance use issues alongside vocational goals, workforce reentry programs aim to holistically heal and empower participants, allowing them to reenter society as productive, capable individuals with the potential to lead fulfilling lives.

The overall purpose of workforce reentry programs for individuals with a mental health or substance misuse diagnosis post-incarceration is to break down barriers, promote rehabilitation, and provide a structured pathway to sustainable employment. By addressing the complex interplay of factors that contribute to reintegration challenges, these programs play a vital role in fostering personal transformation, reducing recidivism, and supporting the overall well-being of participants.

Types of Workforce Reentry Programs

Workforce reentry programs come in various forms, each tailored to address different needs and challenges individuals may face when reintegrating into the workforce. Here are some common types of workforce reentry programs:

  • Vocational rehabilitation programs: These programs provide comprehensive support to individuals with mental health conditions to help them develop job-related skills, identify suitable career paths, and secure employment. Vocational rehabilitation services may include vocational assessments, job training, résumé building, interview coaching, and job placement assistance. Job Corps is an example of this type of program; it is for young people, ages sixteen to twenty-four, who want to participate in no-cost vocational training (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.-a).
  • Supported employment programs: Supported employment programs offer ongoing assistance and guidance for individuals with mental health challenges as they search for and maintain employment. These programs provide job coaches or employment specialists who work closely with participants and employers to ensure a smooth transition and successful integration into the workplace. Examples of such programs include the Mental Health and Addiction Services Supported Employment Project and Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Supported Employment Transformation Project (SETP) (SAMHSA, 2022c).
  • Transitional employment programs: Transitional employment programs offer temporary work placements with the goal of helping individuals build confidence, work habits, and skills. These placements can serve as stepping stones to more permanent employment and provide valuable experience to enhance participants’ résumés.
  • Peer support programs: Peer support programs connect individuals with peers who have successfully navigated their own mental health or substance use challenges and returned to the workforce. Peer mentors provide guidance, share their experiences, and offer emotional support, fostering a sense of hope and connection.
  • Education and training programs: Some workforce reentry programs focus on education and skill enhancement through workshops, classes, and training sessions. These programs equip participants with the necessary skills for a particular field or trade, increasing their employability and confidence.
  • Job placement services: Job placement services assist participants in identifying job opportunities that align with their skills, interests, and limitations. These programs may have established partnerships with employers who are open to hiring individuals with mental health conditions.
  • Customized employment programs: Customized employment programs create tailored job positions to match the strengths and preferences of individuals with mental health or substance use challenges. These programs work closely with employers to design roles that accommodate participants’ abilities and support their success.
  • Entrepreneurship and self-employment programs: Some individuals may choose to explore entrepreneurship or self-employment opportunities. These programs offer training and support for starting and managing small businesses, allowing participants to work at their own pace and on their terms.
  • Mental health integration programs: These programs incorporate mental health support into the workplace environment. They provide resources for employees and employers to foster understanding, reduce stigma, and promote a supportive atmosphere for individuals with mental health conditions.
  • Continuing education and lifelong learning programs: For individuals who want to further their education or explore new interests, these programs offer access to adult education, higher education, and lifelong learning opportunities to enhance career prospects and personal growth.

The types of programs available can vary in their focus, intensity, and duration, ensuring that individuals can find the support that best suits their needs and goals.

Funding and Resources

Funding and resources are essential components for the successful implementation of workforce reentry programs. These programs require a combination of financial support, personnel, and access to specialized services to effectively address the complex needs of this population. Funding and resources for these programs typically come from a combination of government and private sources.

  • Government grants: Federal, state, and local government agencies often provide grants to support workforce development initiatives, including those targeting individuals with mental health or substance misuse diagnoses post-incarceration. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, and U.S. Department of Justice are common sources of such grants.
  • Nonprofit organizations: Nonprofits that focus on criminal justice reform, mental health advocacy, and substance misuse treatment may offer funding and resources to support workforce reentry programs. These organizations often prioritize initiatives that promote rehabilitation, reduce recidivism, and enhance community reintegration.
  • Community foundations: Local community foundations and charitable organizations may allocate funds to support workforce reentry programs that directly benefit the community by providing employment opportunities and addressing mental health or substance use issues. The Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries International are examples of such foundations.
  • Corporate partnerships: Some companies are committed to social responsibility and invest in workforce development initiatives. Partnerships with such companies can provide financial support, job placement opportunities, and mentorship programs for program participants.
  • Vocational training providers: Vocational schools, community colleges, and training institutions may collaborate with workforce reentry programs to offer discounted or specialized training to program participants, reducing the financial burden and enhancing their job prospects.
  • Health-care organizations: Health-care organizations, including mental health clinics and substance misuse treatment centers, may contribute resources, such as counseling services, therapy sessions, and access to medical professionals to support the mental health and well-being of program participants.
  • Staff and volunteers: Trained professionals, including social workers, counselors, vocational trainers, and case managers, are essential resources for workforce reentry programs. These individuals provide guidance, support, and expertise to help participants navigate their reintegration journey.
  • In-kind donations: Donations of office equipment, training materials, transportation assistance, and other resources can help reduce program costs and improve participants’ access to necessary services.
  • Advocacy groups: Organizations that advocate for the rights and well-being of individuals with criminal records, mental health conditions, or substance misuse histories may offer support in the form of funding, resources, and expertise.
  • Social service agencies: Collaborating with local social service agencies can create access to housing assistance, childcare services, and other resources that support participants’ stability and successful reentry.

Benefits and Challenges to Workforce Reentry Programs

Workforce reentry programs offer a range of advantages for individuals seeking to rejoin the workforce after periods of absence. These programs provide valuable skills training, reduce the likelihood of relapse into criminal activities, and contribute to community reintegration. By helping participants secure stable employment, workforce reentry programs promote financial independence and reduce the strain on public assistance programs. Challenges, such as addressing skill gaps, combating stigma, coordinating comprehensive support services, ensuring sustainable funding, and aligning job opportunities with participants’ backgrounds and aspirations are important considerations in ensuring the overall effectiveness and impact of these programs.


Workforce reentry programs encompass a spectrum of benefits that profoundly impact individuals navigating their reintegration into the workforce. Beyond the immediate goal of employment, these programs offer a holistic support system that addresses multifaceted challenges. Skill development and educational initiatives equip participants with tangible knowledge, augmenting their employability and cultivating a renewed sense of achievement. Importantly, workforce reentry programs play a pivotal role in bolstering self-esteem and confidence, catalyzing personal empowerment, and enhancing self-worth.

By integrating mental health support services, these programs empower participants with adaptive coping mechanisms, bolstered resilience, and effective strategies for managing underlying mental health challenges. Participants in reentry programs benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy to change antisocial thinking and increase problem-solving ability.

The reentering individual learns to examine attitudes related to previous antisocial behavior and develop respect for the rights of others. The experience of successful workforce reentry fosters a sense of belonging and renewed social connections within their communities. These programs also serve as catalysts for reducing recidivism rates among individuals who are recently released from incarceration. They help provide stability and guidance through a time of stress and transition for these clients.


Implementing workforce reentry programs can come with a range of challenges. These hurdles can significantly impact both clients and program administrators and require comprehensive strategies to mitigate their effects. One central challenge involves addressing skill gaps, as participants’ time away from the workforce can result in a misalignment of their abilities with contemporary job requirements.

Combating the stigma and discrimination faced by individuals with histories of mental illness, substance misuse, or incarceration is another significant obstacle, demanding strategies to educate employers and reshape perceptions. Integrating mental health and substance misuse support alongside employment objectives requires a well-coordinated and holistic approach. The availability of job opportunities that accommodate participants’ unique circumstances can be limited, further highlighting the need for creative solutions to enhance their employability and broaden their career prospects.

Truly comprehensive workforce reentry programs include support services, such as counseling, housing assistance, childcare, and transportation. These support services are essential to clients’ overall stability and wellness but are resource intensive. Sustainability remains an ongoing challenge, necessitating continued funding, community engagement, and adaptation to dynamic job market trends. A customized approach to accommodate the individual challenges and goals of each client is best and requires a personalized and flexible program framework. Addressing the practical aspects of reentry, from obtaining identification documents to reconnecting with social networks, poses further complexities. Effectively addressing all of these multifaceted challenges demands a collaborative effort among clients, nurses, governmental bodies, nonprofit organizations, mental health professionals, employers, and community stakeholders to ensure the success and lasting impact of workforce reentry programs.

Engaging employers within the framework of workforce reentry programs presents a particularly complex set of challenges. These challenges stem from a range of factors that influence employers’ perceptions, decisions, and willingness to participate in such initiatives. One of the most significant obstacles is the persistent stigma and biases associated with hiring individuals with nontraditional backgrounds.

Additionally, employers often conduct risk assessments, considering potential liabilities and disruptions that individuals with complex histories might bring. This caution can impede their readiness to collaborate with workforce reentry programs (U.S. Department of Labor, n.d.-b). Limited awareness among employers about the benefits and achievements of these programs also contributes to their reluctance. The absence of adequate resources within certain businesses, especially smaller ones, for accommodating unique needs like mental health support or reentry coaching further compounds the challenge.

Communication gaps between workforce reentry programs and employers can create problems with successful placements because misunderstandings about participants’ skill sets, strengths, and potential arise. Employers might question whether the acquired skills align with their industry needs or whether clients will be able to seamlessly integrate into their work environments. Concerns about long-term retention and the stability of individuals with complex histories can also impact employers’ decisions, due to preconceived negative ideas about persons with criminal convictions.

Overcoming these challenges requires multifaceted strategies, including ongoing employer education about the benefits of hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds. Highlighting success stories to demonstrate the positive outcomes of workforce reentry programs can further sway employers toward active engagement. Additionally, tailored outreach efforts, incentives for hiring program participants, and consistent support for both employers and participants can foster collaboration. The U.S. Department of Labor offers grants and programs, such as the Federal Bonding Program, to encourage employers to embrace reentry. The Federal Bonding Program assists employers in purchasing liability insurance to help remove the risks of hiring previously incarcerated or other challenged job seekers whose backgrounds may pose significant barriers to securing or retaining employment.

Nursing Involvement with Workforce Reentry Programs

Nursing plays a pivotal role in workforce reentry programs, contributing a unique blend of clinical expertise and compassionate support to individuals navigating the challenges of returning to employment after periods of absence. As advocates for holistic well-being, nurses offer vital contributions to these programs by addressing participants’ physical and mental health needs, ensuring seamless coordination of care, and fostering an environment of understanding and encouragement. Through their skills in health assessment, counseling, and collaboration with interdisciplinary teams, nurses play a vital role in enhancing participants’ overall success and well-being during their reintegration journey.

Interventions and Needs

Nursing interventions play a pivotal role in the success of workplace reentry programs for individuals with mental health conditions. Here is a list of potential nursing interventions for nurses working with clients involved in these programs:

  • Health assessment: Conduct comprehensive health assessments to identify any physical or mental health issues that might impact clients’ ability to engage in employment. Address any immediate health concerns, and develop strategies for ongoing health management.
  • Medication management: Collaborate with health-care providers to ensure proper medication management, monitor potential side effects, and address any medication-related concerns that might affect participants’ work performance.
  • Counseling and support: Provide individual and group counseling sessions to address participants’ emotional and psychological needs. Offer coping strategies, stress management techniques, and emotional support to enhance their readiness for employment.
  • Wellness education: Offer education on various aspects of wellness, including stress reduction, nutrition, exercise, and sleep hygiene, to promote participants’ overall well-being. Educate participants on self-care practices to maintain their mental and physical well-being while managing the demands of work and reentry.
  • Substance misuse education: Deliver education on substance misuse prevention, relapse prevention strategies, and resources available for clients struggling with substance misuse issues.
  • Crisis intervention: Be prepared to provide immediate crisis intervention and support in case participants experience setbacks or relapses during their reentry process.
  • Collaboration with mental health professionals: Collaborate with other mental health professionals to ensure a comprehensive approach to clients’ mental health needs.
  • Stigma reduction: Educate clients and employers about mental health and substance use challenges, working to reduce stigma and misconceptions that might affect clients’ employment prospects.
  • Referrals and resource navigation: Assist participants in accessing community resources, such as housing assistance, childcare services, and support groups, to address various barriers to reentry.
  • Workplace accommodations: Collaborate with employers to recommend workplace accommodations, if necessary, to support participants’ mental health needs and ensure a successful work experience.
  • Health monitoring and follow-up: Provide ongoing health monitoring and follow-up appointments to assess participants’ progress, address any emerging health concerns, and offer continued support.
  • Conflict resolution skills: Offer training in conflict resolution and communication skills, helping participants effectively navigate workplace interactions and challenges.

Community Collaboration

Nursing and community collaboration within the context of workforce reentry programs helps reintegration efforts. Nurses act as liaisons, connecting participants with community-based services, such as mental health counseling, substance misuse support groups, housing assistance, and vocational training opportunities. Their clinical insights enable them to identify participants’ unique needs and provide holistic care that addresses both physical and mental health concerns.

Community organizations offer a range of supplementary resources that reinforce the efforts of workforce reentry programs, such as job placement agencies, legal assistance, and financial counseling. This teamwork enables clients to receive a comprehensive support system that extends beyond health care to encompass social, economic, and emotional aspects crucial for successful reintegration. The collaboration also contributes to destigmatizing mental health problems, fostering a more inclusive environment that encourages participation and acceptance. Ultimately, nursing and community collaboration in workforce reentry programs facilitates a holistic approach that empowers individuals to overcome barriers, enhance their well-being, and secure a meaningful place in both the workforce and society.


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