Commerce Program Opens Employment Pathway for Justice-Involved Kansans


TOPEKAKANSASWORKS, a division of the Kansas Department of Commerce, is taking significant strides to empower justice-involved individuals across the state through the Re-entry Specialized Employment Counseling & Training (ReSpECT)WORKS program. This program provides intensive case management and career navigation for eligible individuals released from the prison system in Kansas.

The ReSpECTWORKS program, administered in partnership with the Kansas Department of Corrections, was established in 2021 to help reduce the state’s recidivism rate in Kansas, which is currently at 35 percent.

“This program focuses on providing an opportunity for justice-involved Kansans to secure sustainable, living-wage employment in order to actively participate in society and break the cycle of incarceration,” Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. “In turn, employers that need talent can be rest-assured these candidates have a pool of resources to help them succeed.”

The program currently operates through federal funding that the agency competes for, such as the $4 million Pathway Home grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2021.

Assistance is provided on an as-needed basis and includes:

  • Job preparation, exploration and planning
  • Occupational skills training
  • Rental assistance
  • Transportation and other basic needs-related payments
  • Supplies and work clothes
  • Intensive case management and employment counseling
  • Assistance obtaining state identification
  • Other individualized services

We know that those who obtain a livable wage job upon release from prison are a third less likely to return,” Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda said. “We are excited about our partnership with KANSASWORKS and the ReSpECTWORKS program, as it provides an added layer of resources to help these individuals succeed once they have returned to the community.”

A unique aspect of ReSpECTWORKS is that participants remain with the same case manager pre- and post-release. Additionally, participants receive 12 months of follow-up upon securing stable employment. The objective of this method is to assist participants by providing comprehensive, personalized service that will help lead them into and retain high-demand, sustainable-wage jobs and decrease the likelihood to re-offend.

To date, the ReSpECTWORKS program has enrolled 360 justice-involved participants and has achieved an employment rate of more than 70 percent.

“Our approach to this program is intentional, and the feedback that we’ve gotten from those enrolled is encouraging,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce Mike Beene said. “All of this is about putting the human element back into the equation, and the ReSpECTWORKS program facilitates that.”

The Kansas Department of Commerce hopes to expand the program and increase the annual number of justice-involved individuals served annually to 120 within the next year.


KANSASWORKS links businesses, job candidates and educational institutions to ensure that employers can find skilled workers. Services are provided to employers and job candidates through the state’s 27 workforce centers, online or virtual services KANSASWORKS is completely free for all Kansans to use. Learn more at State employment opportunities can be found at

About the Kansas Department of Commerce:

As the state’s lead economic development agency, the Kansas Department of Commerce strives to empower individuals, businesses and communities to achieve prosperity in Kansas. Commerce accomplishes its mission by developing relationships with corporations, site location consultants and stakeholders in Kansas, the nation and world. Our strong partnerships allow us to help create an environment for existing Kansas businesses to grow and foster an innovative, competitive landscape for new businesses. Through Commerce’s project successes, Kansas was awarded Area Development Magazine’s prestigious Gold Shovel award in 2021, 2022 and 2023, and was awarded the 2021 and 2022 Governor’s Cup by Site Selection Magazine.

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