Examining Vocational Rehabilitation Services Provided to Incarcerated Persons With Disabilities

Published date01 April 2021
Date01 April 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2021, Vol. 32(3) 268 –283
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0887403420913621
Examining Vocational
Rehabilitation Services
Provided to Incarcerated
Persons With Disabilities
Natasha A. Baloch1 and Wesley G. Jennings2
In the U.S. prison system, incarcerated persons with a disability represent a
largely marginalized population with limited or inadequate provision of services in
prison. In general, once released, ex-offenders face a number of challenges when
they reenter society ranging from access to housing, employment, health care, and
substance use services. These challenges are generally exacerbated for incarcerated
persons with a disability. Overall, there is a dearth of research on rates of vocational
services utilization among incarcerated persons with a disability. Using data from
the Rehabilitation Services Administration for 30,170 inmates, the results indicate
that inmates with cognitive and physical disabilities have the lowest utilization of
vocational services overall and across all types of services (educational, job, disability,
and other). Furthermore, vocational service utilization varies based on the nature
of the disability suggesting distinct programming needs for each group. Implications
for access to vocational rehabilitation services and current reentry programming for
incarcerated persons with a disability are discussed.
vocational rehabilitation, prison reentry, disabilities, employment, corrections, mental
illnesses, physical health
1University of South Florida, Tampa, USA
2The University of Mississippi, University Park, USA
Corresponding Author:
Natasha A. Baloch, Department of Criminology, University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue,
SOC 107, Tampa, FL 33620-9951, USA.
Email: nbaloch@usf.edu
913621CJPXXX10.1177/0887403420913621Criminal Justice Policy ReviewBaloch and Jennings
Baloch and Jennings 269
Incarcerated persons with a disability are a largely marginalized population in the U.S.
prison system. They face a number of additional barriers postrelease compared with an
incarcerated person without a disability often due to lack of resources to meet specific
needs of persons with disabilities for rehabilitation and employment. Yet, not much is
known about accessibility rates of vocational services provided to incarcerated per-
sons with a physical or mental disability who are eligible to receive services. A dispro-
portionate amount of the prison population is noted to have some type of mental illness
(Baillargeon et.al., 2009; Fazel et al., 2016; Prins, 2014). These numbers are over-
whelmingly large compared with the presence of mental illnesses in the general popu-
lation. In the United States alone, over 50% of the prison population has some type of
mental illness compared with only 11% of the general population (Daniel, 2007).
Similarly, incarcerated persons with an intellectual disability range from 4% to 10%
compared with only 2% to 3% in the general population (Petersilia, 2000). Among
other types of psychosocial disorders, substance use-related and antisocial disorders
including depressive and personality disorders are the most prevalent (El Sayed et al.,
2016; Fazel et al., 2016; Freudenberg, 2001; Goncalves et al., 2019; Prins, 2014). For
serious mental illnesses, reported estimates range between 6% and 15% for U.S. jails,
and 10% and 15% for U.S. state prisons (Lamb & Weinberger, 1998). Furthermore,
these disorders are often accompanied with other chronic physical health conditions
(Grosholz & Semenza, 2018; National Commission on Correctional Health Care,
2008; Wilper et al., 2009). In terms of the prevalence of physical disabilities, it has
been noted that approximately 26% of inmates reported a hearing, visual, or mobility
disability (American Civil Liberties Union, 2019).
Despite this overrepresentation of disabilities among U.S. inmates, there is a lack
of research examining vocational rehabilitation services provided to this population
(Harley, 1996). Moreover, given that each type of disability may present different
challenges for a person with disability, it is important to examine the variation in pro-
vision and utilization of various types of services among different disability and demo-
graphic groups to better understand and serve the needs of this underserved group.
Vocational rehabilitation is a federal-state program to help find, sustain, and
improve employment outcomes for individuals with a mental or physical disability.
Vocational rehabilitation can play an important role in finding and providing train-
ing to sustain meaningful employment for individuals with a disability helping them
achieve financial independence. Vocational rehabilitation generally provides a range
of services including medical and psychological assessment, vocational evaluation,
vocational training after high school, on the job training, supported employment,
and time-limited medical and psychological treatment based on individual disability
needs (Florida Department of Education, 2019). Considering the fact that a large
number of challenges faced by inmates postrelease are often related to financial
challenges including affording housing, pay bills, and sustain a living, meaningful
employment can play a significant role in making them more independent and pre-
vent recidivism (Hong et al., 2014). Inmates are generally referred to the vocational

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