Objectives: The aim of this study was to document and analyze common strategies used by supported employment specialists to overcome criminal justice issues among clients with severe mental illness.
Methods: Semistructured qualitative interviews were conducted with a group of 22 supported employment specialists and their supervisors. Interviews were open ended and supplemented by ethnographic observation. Data were examined thematically by content analysis.
Results: Assisting clients with past and present criminal histories to find employment was confirmed as one of the hardest self-identified challenges for employment specialists. Three specific strategies commonly used by specialists for this subpopulation are documented and analyzed. These include taking an incremental approach with clients vis-à-vis obtaining work and career advancement, using a strengths-based model that emphasizes the client's strong points, and focusing the job search on "mom and pop" businesses that typically do not conduct background checks or do not have rigid recruitment policies. Enacting these strategies led to some deviation from the individualized placement and support model of supported employment. Participants noted that they felt most challenged when attempting to serve and assist clients with sex offenses.
Conclusions: The findings imply that specialists are challenged when dealing with clients with criminal justice issues and use several approaches to overcome these challenges. Current specialist training may be deficient in preparing staff to effectively serve people with criminal justice issues. Further research should assess the efficacy of the approaches outlined in this article to give more guidance to specialists working with clients with criminal justice issues.