New program in KY to get inmates and juvenile justice youth back to work

New program in KY to get inmates and juvenile justice youth back to work

FRANKFORT, KY (KFVS) - The Kentucky Labor Cabinet and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet are collaborating on a new apprenticeship pilot project that will seek to match prison inmates and juvenile offenders with skilled jobs as they reenter society.

According to Governor Matt Bevin's office, the initiative, called "Justice to Journeyman," places inmates on track to earn a nationally recognized journeyman credential in a skilled trade, starting with training they receive inside Kentucky prisons.

It will also network inmates with employers in the private sector who have agreed to consider former felons when hiring for jobs.

In addition to prisons, the project will operate in juvenile justice facilities, helping youth residents earn similar credentials and obtain employment post-incarceration.

"Kentucky is going to lead the way for returning people back from the justice system into society in productive, useful, non-recidivist ways," said Governor Bevin. "We are going to lead the nation, and we're going to do it through programs like this."

Justice to Journeyman includes expanding Kentucky's Registered Apprenticeship program and reforming the state's criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and improve public safety.

Although the Kentucky Department of Corrections and the Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice have provided skills training for years, the Governor says Justice to Journeyman offers a more tailored career pathway for inmates and juvenile offenders while also addressing a dire workforce need for skilled labor.

According to Bevin's office, the Department of Corrections discharged more than 18,600 inmates last year, and another 295 were released from youth development centers at the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Studies show that steady employment remains a key factor in helping felons avoid new crimes and transition back into the community. For instance, a 2008 study from the Safer Foundation, a national not-for-profit that specializes in reentry, found that one year of employment decreases the three-year recidivism rate to 16 percent, far lower than the 52 percent rate for all inmates in the study.

That is a potential cost savings for Kentucky, which currently spends half a billion dollars a year on corrections.

Each program will have the capacity to train about 15 students at a time, and current programs include: an electrical program, welding, carpentry, telecommunications, masonry and building maintenance, depending on the facility.

Apprentices earn an average starting wage of $15 an hour, with wage increases as they advance in skills and knowledge.

According to Bevin's office, ninety-one percent of apprentices retain employment after the program ends.

To receive a journeyman certificate at the completion of the program, inmates and youth must complete 2,000 to 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and 144 annual classroom hours of instruction, depending on the type of trade.

In most cases, the pilot program will allow inmates and youth to begin the certification process while in custody with the expectation of completing it with employment in the private sector.

So far, at least three organizations have agreed to participate in this initiative, including Amteck, an electrical contracting firm headquartered in Lexington; the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters & Service Technicians (Local 502) in Louisville; and the Associated Builders & Contractors Chapter of Indiana/Kentucky.

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