Swimming Against the Current: Understanding Employment Strategies and Barriers to Re-Entry for Black Male Ex-Offenders




Clunis, Tamara Thornton

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The United States is experiencing the collateral consequences of mass incarceration policies in place since the 1990's. More than seven million people are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system in the US. The majority of the prisoners incarcerated during the 1990's with extended prison sentences are being released to the communities they left behind years ago. It's estimated that approximately 735,000 ex offenders return home to their communities annually. In the race to incarcerate, the US neglected to foresee the need for reentry policies that would prepare communities for the mass return of ex-offenders. The incarceration rate for Black males is seven times that of white males. Thus, a disproportionate number of ex-offenders returning home from prison each year are Black males. The Texas ex-offender reentry population is predominantly male, a minority (Black or Hispanic) and committed a non-violent property or drug related felony offense. Ex-offenders face numerous barriers to successful reentry. The biggest challenge for ex-offenders upon reentry from prison is obtaining employment that pays a livable wage. Other challenges include obtaining housing and building a diverse social support system of family and friends. The purpose of this exploratory case study investigated the employment strategies and barriers to reentry for Black male ex-offenders. The study focused specifically on the on the influence of race, human capital investment and social networks on the outcomes for this population returning home to their communities each year. The theoretical frameworks for this study are critical race theory, meritocracy, human capital and social capital. Four ex-offenders, their family members, and two workforce development specialists for Project RIO were interviewed for this project. Key project findings indicate that human capital investment while incarcerated and a strong social support network were important to the success of the project participants. Participants with the best reentry outcomes had access to a diverse social network when seeking employment and significantly increased their human capital while incarcerated rather than attempting to do so through post-release programs. Entrepreneurship was an alternate strategy for earning a livable wage. The study includes recommendations for future research.



social integration, employment, African American prisoners, ex-convicts


Clunis, T.T. (2010). Swimming against the current: understanding employment strategies and barriers to re-entry for Black male ex-offenders (Unpublished dissertation). Texas State University-San Marcos, San Marcos, Texas.


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