Although paid work done by prisoners has been criticized as “slave” labor that steals jobs from those on the outside, prison employment programs keep many prisoners busy and potentially out of trouble, while at the same time providing training to help reduce the monetary and social costs of recidivism.
If you have a relative or friend in prison, encourage them to enroll in one of these programs, if they haven’t already. It could be very beneficial for them to do so and provide the necessary skills to become employed and stay out of prison in the future.
In California, for example, the state-operated California Prison Industries Authority provides employment for 7,000 inmates in more than 60 service, manufacturing and agricultural industries located in 22 prisons. These industries produce more than 1,200 products that range from coffee and baked goods to furniture and eyewear.
Accredited certification programs for a wide variety of skills help inmates develop the experience and knowledge they need to get a job after their sentence is complete. Among the most successful of these certification programs is the Career Technical Education program. This program trains participants at Folsom State Prison to be carpenters, ironworks and laborers and at the California Institution for Women, Corona, to be carpenters.
“We partner with labor unions, and when our guys (and gals) get out of the program they become apprentices,” says Erick Reslock, chief, external affairs of the CalPIA. “We give them a tool belt and pay their union dues for the first year.” During their training they do facilities maintenance for such underfunded government agencies as the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Folsom Division. Inmate employees get paid between 30 and 90 cents per hour, but after release will move into salaried apprenticeship programs.
At the California Institution for Men, Chino, CalPIA operates the Marine Technology Training Center, a commercial diving school which trains participants to be divers and underwater welders and is also part of the Career Technical Education program. “Upon release, they get immediately hired on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico at six-figure salaries,” Reslock says. They’re also being hired to do underwater welding for the Port of Los Angles. With 2,040 hours of training it’s a rigorous curriculum that produces not only skilled employees but ex-offenders who stay out of prison. Only two people who participated in the program have ever been re-incarcerated, according to Reslock.
Also part of its services to inmates, CalPIA offers assistance in resume writing and developing interviewing skills. It also helps them get a California driver’s license or ID and directs them to such resources as the California One-stop Career Centers for further help with their job search.
CalPIA spends $96 million a year on raw materials for its industries, and when buying those materials, the authority gives preference to companies that hire ex-offenders, just one more employment-related benefit for those who’ve been through the system.
For more information, check out www.pia.ca.gov. For information on jail industries across the nation, go to www.nationalcia.org.