The state could release 40,000 inmates soon. Where will they work?


November 19, 2010 | 11:24 AM | By Rina Palta
Green jobs fair at San Quentin State Prison. Courtesy of Kirk Crippens.

Yesterday, our San Quentin columnist, Richard Gilliam wrote about the difficulty of finding work with a felony on your record. Today, the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice released a report on the topic, with a twist. Over the next couple of years, the state may be required to cut the state prison population by 40,000 inmates: that’s 40,000 more people out and about, likely with no health insurance, and with limited access to welfare and state assistance. Also, the report points out, about 60-80 percent will (still) be unemployed one year after being released from prison.

This population reduction order is not final: California has appealed the order to the US Supreme Court, which will take it up in late November (look for full coverage from DC here and on our nightly news show, Crosscurrents!). But regardless, the prison population is expected to go down because of reforms CDCR has put in place, and those who’re coming out are facing a tough job climate, with a big blot on their resumes. Here’s what the coalition of government workers, academics, and policy makers who contributed to Berkeley’s report suggest:

  • Increase educational opportunities in prison. The prisoner population is generally less educated than the general population. According to CDCR’s latest annual report, in the 2008-09 fiscal year, 3,305 inmates successfully completed adult education programs. And the waiting list for such programs was 23,202.
  • Make more of these opportunities skill-based and vocational. Interestingly, as goes the nation goes the prison population. Over the past few years, the number of inmates earning Associate of Arts/Sciences degrees has declined while vocational degrees are comparatively skyrocketing (159 in 2005/6; 5,409 in 2008/9). No offense to the prison poet, but it seems in hard times, people want money-making skills.
  • Get employers involved. Which means orienting training programs to fields that need workers. Some prisons are already seeing the light on this one. Earlier this year, San Quentin State Prison hosted the prison system’s first green jobs fair, put together by the California Reentry Program and the Insight Garden Program.
  • Start checking the background check industry. As employers want more and more information about applicants, the background check industry is growing by about 25-35 percent each year. The Berkeley report says this industry needs more regulation to make sure there’s more accuracy in what they’re coming up with and that they’re not digging into information that should legally be private or not have a bearing on employment.

The overall message of the report seems to be this: there are a lot of people coming out of prison each year (like 140,000 and growing). At some point, we’re going to have to start focusing more on getting these folks into situations where they can earn a living in the upright and legal sphere.

Source: Kalw News

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