Justice to Journeyman
You know the scenario well: You arrest an offender and send them off to prison. A few years later, they return to your community, angrier and more adept at committing crimes. “Repeat customers,” as I’ve heard many in law enforcement say.
Unfortunately, it’s a common problem in Kentucky, where we have an unacceptably-high recidivism rate of more than 40 percent.
That’s why so much of our attention at the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet is focused on preparing felons for successful reentry. Up to 98 percent of all state inmates, eventually, will be released from prisons and jails. Strong reentry programs not only cut costs and improve public safety, they also alleviate burdens on law enforcement.
I discussed these themes in my last column about Senate Bill 120, which enacted evidence-based reforms to reduce recidivism and strengthen reentry for those with a criminal record. Building on that theme, I also want to discuss a separate but similar effort called the “Justice to Journeyman” apprenticeship project, which we launched earlier this year.
The initiative places adult and juvenile offenders on track to earn a nationally-recognized journeyman credential in a skilled trade, starting with vocational training they receive inside prison walls. The goal is to network inmates with employers in the private sector so felons can walk directly into steady employment as they leave prison.
Research on employer attitudes has shown men with criminal records face a far tougher job market due to the stigma of their past. One study showed that while up to 90 percent of employers would likely hire employees with little work experience or long periods of unemployment, only 40 percent would likely hire applicants with a criminal background.
That’s bad news for law enforcement considering stable employment, housing and transportation are the chief determining factors in whether a felon will reoffend. And it’s another example of how two areas of criminal justice – law enforcement and corrections – are intrinsically bound together, driving home the notion that law enforcement can’t afford to function in a vacuum.
In fact, the Justice to Journeyman initiative resulted from a partnership between the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet, tapping the strengths of our state’s Registered Apprenticeship program along with our focus on reentry.
The program currently is operating in three adult prisons and four juvenile-justice centers, with training in electricity, welding, carpentry, telecommunications, masonry and building maintenance. We hope to expand this effort statewide as more employers join.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the initiative is its low cost; all of this training already was occurring in Kentucky prisons. We simply realigned it to better meet the needs of employers and match the requirements for journeymen credentials at virtually no additional cost to taxpayers.
As you face lean budgets and scarce resources in your own communities, I would encourage all in law enforcement to support these efforts by talking to local business leaders about hiring those with a criminal past.
Some might argue that jobs programs only coddle criminals. To me, coddling occurs when inmates are allowed to sit idle in prison, networking with other felons and fine-tuning their criminal trades. If business leaders truly are committed to accountability, let’s demand that felons learn a productive skill and support themselves with a job after release.
Maybe then law enforcement won’t have so many repeat customers.