Cover: Bridge to Opportunities

Bridge to Opportunities

How One Probation Agency Developed a Program Designed to Connect Probationers to High-Wage Jobs

Published May 25, 2018

by Dionne Barnes-Proby, Priscillia Hunt, Lisa Jonsson, Samantha Cherney

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Research Questions

  1. How was the program developed and how does it operate?
  2. How is the program implemented?
  3. What are the implementation barriers and facilitators?
  4. What do people think of the program?

This report is one component of a larger RAND project aimed at addressing income inequalities faced by workers with criminal records. Given the labor market challenges faced by people with criminal convictions, it can be challenging for probation agencies to help their clients find jobs, let alone earn living wages. This report summarizes findings from a descriptive case study of one program focused on the construction industry intended to improve the earning potential of individuals on probation in Sacramento County, California. Using a qualitative approach, the authors provide an understanding of how the program evolved; describe how program activities are delivered; identify implementation barriers and facilitators; and provide an overview of the program's successes and shortcomings as perceived by key stakeholders, including probation agents, construction companies, and probationers.

Key Findings

Seven facilitators were identified that aid program development and continued operation.

  • The program develops and leverages relationships with service providers and local employers to ensure that probationers have access to a full range of support.
  • The program has established and maintains a positive reputation with prospective employers to ensure ongoing job opportunities.
  • Highly skilled instructors and dedicated staff allow for customized instruction and readily available support.
  • Supplies and ancillary support are provided for probationers, who might not be able to afford the necessary materials.
  • Program champions are used to help recruit, retain, and inspire students.
  • Those in charge of recruitment and enrollment target probationers who are willing to invest in the program.
  • It is crucial to select a "felon-friendly" career field that levels the playing field for probationers.

A few program barriers were also identified.

  • Some probationers are unable to commit up to nine months to an unpaid program.
  • Juggling competing demands might impact program participation and subsequent job retention.
  • Limited transportation options make it difficult for probationers to attend classes.
  • Issues with driver's licenses limit job opportunities for probationers.
  • Substance use drives down recruitment and retention rates.


  • Explore funding opportunities to support a subsidy or stipend for program participation. This work incentive model has proven to be effective at improving retention.
  • Improve coordination between the probation officers and program staff to minimize student absenteeism. Develop a retention program that includes follow-up with probationers during the program and after job placement. Identify and address reasons for discontinued participation.
  • Increase shuttle pick-up locations to include some remote options. Offer additional alternative modes of transportation (e.g., taxi service). Supportive services like transportation are critical to program engagement and completion.
  • Identify funding sources and support services to assist probationers with addressing their driver's license issues. This may include collaborating with the Department of Motor Vehicles to identify a way to address the needs of probationers while still attending to the reason for the suspension or revocation in the first place.
  • Consider partnering with a drug treatment program to provide onsite services to prospective and current program participants to address issues with substance use. While these services are available in the community, having an onsite provider might encourage participation by eliminating the logistical barrier.

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by RAND Labor and Population.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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