By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line
In a continuing effort to address justice system issues in the state, Gov. Matt Bevin and members of his administration announced new pilot projects in state prisons to help people transition into work after incarceration and address Kentucky’s workforce issues.
At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Bevin noted the large amount the state is spending on incarceration as well as the critical workforce shortage faced by Kentucky employers and offered the new “Justice to Journeyman” apprenticeship program as a way to address those issues.
Bevin also said while the state does want to incarcerate people who need to be behind bars, Kentucky is incarcerating people at a rate higher than the national average and noted that those individuals are left without many options when transitioning back into the community.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey stated that Kentucky released 18,600 inmates last year and Justice Cabinet Secretary John Tilley added that of those individuals, 40 percent are likely to end up back behind bars if they do not find employment after being released.
The new effort will start with a pilot project in three state prisons and four juvenile corrections centers and focus on skill areas including electrical, welding, carpentry, telecommunications, and maintenance repair.
Each program will have 15 students, which, officials said, will grow in the coming years.
As for funding, Secretary Ramsey said this is not a new idea but instead of the individuals just working while incarcerated, they will now be earning certifications. The programs will use existing funding and structures.
Ramsey said this new project is the next step in this administration’s efforts to address justice issues with initiatives like felony expungement, fair chance employment executive order, and legislation from the criminal justice panel assembled by Bevin that is currently moving through the General Assembly.
Tilley said the apprenticeship programs announced Thursday fits perfectly with Senate Bill 120, the reentry legislation strongly supported by the Kentucky Chamber.
Tilley added that the administration is working to align the needs of the business community and jobs available with efforts to cut down on recidivism and giving individuals a second chance after incarceration.
Amteck of Kentucky, an electrical construction company, has seen these type of programs succeed and provide the ability for similar companies to employ skilled workers, according to Amteck employee Corey Bard.
Bard said a skilled workforce is the main concern of companies like his and added that Amteck has had to hire workers from outside the state and even turn down projects due to a lack of skilled labor.
“Programs like this are a huge kick start to a career path,” Bard said.
Bevin closed the press conference by again stating his goal to make Kentucky a “model for the nation” on justice reform issues.
For more state government news go to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s The Bottom Line blog.