Wednesday, March 08, 2017 - Updated: 2:06 AM
Gov. Matt Bevin announced Thursday that 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.
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.
"Approximately 95 percent of individuals in our prison system are going to be released at some point," Bevin said. "And every human being, with rare exception, wants the dignity associated with doing for themselves -- pulling themselves back from whatever mistakes they've made.
"Kentucky is going to lead the way for returning people back from the justice system into society in productive, useful, non-recidivist ways," Bevin added. "We are going to lead the nation, and we're going to do it through programs like this."
Justice to Journeyman combines two signature initiatives of the Bevin Administration: 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, Justice to Journeyman offers a more tailored career pathway for inmates and juvenile offenders while also addressing a dire workforce need for skilled labor.
"This unique partnership today provides both a second chance for inmates and youth who have served their time while also providing for safer communities throughout Kentucky," said Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey. "The other important element to this equation are the employers who are seeking skilled labor to help keep pace with today's economy. Registered apprenticeships will provide this career pathway between inmates and willing employers, and the Labor Cabinet will be working diligently to continue to bring new industries to the table who are seeking to join this innovative program."
Justice Secretary John Tilley also praised the collaborative effort.
"The overwhelming majority of prison inmates and youth will return to society at some point, and public safety demands that we make every effort to prepare these offenders for a successful reentry," Tilley said. "Otherwise, we will continue to see more crime, more victims and more strain on our communities, along with our criminal justice system."
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. A 2008 study from the Safer Foundation, a national nonprofit 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 suggests potential cost savings for Kentucky, which spends about half a billion dollars a year on corrections. Meanwhile, the program will better position inmates to pay child support or restitution to victims.
Often a criminal record results in professional barriers that can drive offenders back into the criminal justice system, resulting in poor outcomes for victims, taxpayers and families who rely on an incarcerated felon as a breadwinner.
An analysis published in 2007, "Collateral Costs: The effects of Incarceration on the Employment and Earnings of Young Workers," 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.
To counter those challenges, the pilot project will offer apprenticeship opportunities in three adult prisons and four juvenile justice facilities with the hope of expanding to additional locations in the future.
Each program will have the capacity to train about 15 students at a time, and 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. About 91 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 -- dependent 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.
"Amteck has a proud history utilizing Registered Apprentices to help us become one of the largest electrical contractors in Kentucky," Amteck CEO Darren Turner said. "We are always looking to find skilled labor, and the Justice to Journeyman program will provide a new avenue of talent looking to enter this industry. We are thrilled to be a part of this creative program, and this partnership underlines the critical role that private employers should play in making Kentucky stronger and safer."
Amteck, the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters & Service Technicians (Local 502, and the Associated Builders & Contractors are among the roughly 1,100 employers across Kentucky who belong to the Labor Cabinet's "Kentucky Trained. Kentucky Built" Registered Apprenticeship initiative. Launched in September of last year, this effort aims to increase awareness of the benefits of apprenticeship training while promoting and strengthening the 2,772 apprentices and 165 different apprenticeable trades that are currently registered in the Commonwealth.
Justice to Journeyman is only the latest among several criminal justice reforms under way Kentucky to improve reentry and help prevent offenders from re-victimizing communities.
Last month, Bevin issued an executive order to implement fair chance hiring practices for executive branch jobs. He also has created a 23-member council -- chaired by Tilley -- to research data-driven evidence and recommend smart-on-crime reforms. And last year, the governor signed legislation to allow for expungement of certain low-level felonies after a person has completed the terms of their criminal sentence.