New Kentucky program would train inmates for workforce while the - WDRB 41 Louisville News

New Kentucky program would train inmates for workforce while they're behind bars

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- A new program unveiled in Frankfort on Thursday aims to provide inmates the training they need to get jobs after they're released.

The program is called Justice to Journeyman. It's an attempt to reduce the number of people returning to state prisons. Inmates who go through the program will be certified in a skilled trade, such as plumbing, welding or electricity.

Traci Martin is in the electrician internship program at the Kentucky Correctional Institute for Women at Pewee Valley.

“One day I would like to flip houses. I would like to buy and sell and fix them up,” said Martin in an interview provided by the Justice Cabinet.

It's a career that Martin could have only dreamed of from behind prison walls, but she is now working to make it a reality.

“It would give me a career choice that I didn't previously have,” she said.

Gov. Matt Bevin says the program is designed to reduce the prison population by reducing the number of ex-offenders who return.

“We want to train people for real jobs, not just to keep their hands busy,” Bevin said.

Bevin hopes the program will ultimately save the state money. It costs a $500 million a year to house the 24,000 state prisoners in Kentucky.

“Ninety-five-plus percent of everybody in our system is going to be released," Bevin said. "So, think about that. We got to find some way to keep from just recycling back through at your expense."

The program is being tested in seven state adult and juvenile facilities.

Employment is not guaranteed, but there is such a shortage of skilled labor that the ex-inmates are almost certain to find a job.

“Programs like this allow us to have a skilled employee, to after more work, to put more people to work, to grow our business,” said Corey Bard, CFO of electrical contractor Amtek.

This is the Bevin administration's latest effort to help ex-offenders stay out of prison and, at the same time, boost the workforce.

He signed the felony expungement law earlier this year, and also made it easier for ex-felons to apply for state jobs by dropping the question about criminal record from the state’s application form.

A massive criminal justice reform bill is also making its way through the legislature. If it passes, companies could be allowed to set up shop and employ inmates behind prison walls.

“If you do not have a job, if you do not have transportation, if you do not have housing, a reliable family, or support, 40% of them go back,” said Kentucky Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey.

Right now, there are 105 inmates in the Justice to Journeyman program, 15 from each facility, but that number is expected to grow.

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