OKLAHOMA (OBV) – Career readiness training is providing Oklahoma inmates skills that create hopeful workforce paths beyond prison.
Oklahoma CareerTech’s Skills Centers programs provide inmates full-time and short-term career readiness training at 17 sites across the state.
A $900,000 federal grant – provided by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2021 – enabled CareerTech to offer career skill training at several of the sites.
The program is designed to put inmates on a productive path that will create life-changing possibilities beyond prison.
“The likelihood of an inmate being reincarcerated after release is much greater if we don’t prepare them for life on the outside,” said Oklahoma CareerTech Deputy Director Justin Lockwood. “It’s a model that works.”
The initiative continues to grow.
CareerTech recently added three instructors to the Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita. Those instructors will teach welding, transportation, distribution and logistics and career readiness programs.
The state agency also added a career readiness program at J.H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley and two new programs at James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena. Crabtree Correctional Center inmates can apply for career readiness and automotive repair programs.
CareerTech officials want the program to include more community correction inmates, who are allowed to leave the prison to go to work sites.
“They continue to receive instruction once a week, so they can build their skill set while they are employed,” CareerTech officials said. “That employment is important because it allows them to pay off fines and other expenses incurred during incarceration.”
Oklahoma CareerTech is a pioneer in inmate rehabilitation. The agency started providing inmates career training in 1971, making Oklahoma the first state in the nation to open an inmate training facility which offered vocational-technical training by a state CareerTech system. More than 2,000 inmates have completed one or more Skills Centers program, with 95 percent finding jobs upon release and 85 percent finding jobs directly related to their training, according to Russell Ray, chief communications and marketing officer for CareerTech.
Skills Centers programs had 1,045 inmate trainees in fiscal year 2022.
CareerTech officials consider multiple factors in choosing which inmates can participate in career training, including time remaining, crime committed, conduct and ability to benefit from the training.
Inmates receive training approximately 32 contact hours a week. They are trained in numerous industry clusters, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution and logistics, construction, career readiness, plumbing, HVAC, electrical, welding and machining and automotive repair.
The Oklahoma Department of Corrections awards inmates credits for completing the training programs. The credits can reduce an inmate’s sentence by 10 to 27 days.
Skills Centers staff members work with state workforce boards, local agencies and faith- and community-based organizations to help inmates who completed training gain employment after being released from prison.
“In fiscal 2022, more than 95 percent of those who completed a Skills Center program were positively placed in employment with an average hourly wage of $14.65,” Ray said.
CareerTech-employed transition coordinators to help inmates procure housing, clothing and other essential items upon release.