Story by Dana Simas, OPEC PIO

Video by Jeff Baur, OPEC TV Specialist

Hair dryers blowing, scissors snipping, and women chattering takes you from inside the prison walls of California Institution for Women (CIW) in Corona to inside a typically favorite female pastime, a trip to the beauty salon.

Inmates enrolled in the cosmetology program have a clear path to success at their fingertips.

“I used to live day by day,” one inmate said. “Now I have something to look forward to when I get out.”

For every inmate that paroles and successfully transitions back into society the state saves tens of thousands of dollars. Most of the vocational education programs have a less than 15 percent recidivism rate, which translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost-savings.

Inmates enrolled in the cosmetology program are required to show up Monday through Friday for six hours a day. Throughout the course the inmates learn several trade skills including hair cutting, coloring, styling, skin care, nails, makeup, sales, and business development.

(Editor’s note: Below is a YouTube video about the course. If you can’t view this video, there is a link to a Windows Media version just below the YouTube link.)

video-button-windows-playerView video using Windows Media Player

Inmates learn skills such as hair cutting, coloring, styling, skin care, nails, makeup, sales, and business development.

“It’s extremely rewarding when (the inmates) realize they have these hidden talents and they didn’t realize how talented they were,” cosmetology program instructor Ilona Sebastian said.

The goal is to not only learn the skills to obtain their state cosmetology license but for the inmates to also know how to manage their own business.

Besides the daily educational format, the inmates also get the opportunity to learn from live demonstrations and lectures from various business representatives from the surrounding communities.

CIW’s program has received more than $100,000 in donations including hair color and salon products.

The program is one of the most sought-after vocational education programs at CIW, not just to participate in the courses, but for the other female inmates to get their hair and nails done.

Inmates who are enrolled in the hair-styling course first begin by practicing on manikins. Once they’ve shown proficiency in the techniques, they then begin practicing on people.

Other inmates use money from their trust accounts, which is earned through jobs at the institution or is sent by the inmates’ loved ones, to pay for salon services performed by the students.

“Every day we get to meet with clients and get experience by doing people’s hair and learning new things,” one inmate who recently passed the state cosmetology test said. “Everything is hands on.”

The target course completion time is 18 months with the instruction culminating with the inmates taking their state Board of cosmetology exam.

In order to prepare for the state boards, the inmates must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge from theory to practical application. The cosmetology program requires 1,600 hours of training/practicum and the manicuring program requires 400 hours.

“They have opportunities,” Sebastian said. “They have the skills to make $150,000.”

The inmates learn to help each other and critique each other’s work while building each other up. They learn to work independently and to practice self-motivation.

To help inmates with their transition back into society, the vocational education programs target inmates with 48 months or less remaining in their sentence.

“One day I do want to own my own salon,” one inmate said. “I have a new outlook on life because I’m able to build a career doing hair and become a successful hairstylist.”

The cosmetology program is also available at Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla and Valley State Prison (male facility) in Chowchilla.

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