By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Manny Chavez, CALPIA Senior Photographer

A recent ceremony at Folsom State Prison honoring 53 graduates marked the first time in California history that offenders earned journey-level apprenticeships while incarcerated.

The California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), in partnership with CDCR, California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and the United States Department of Labor (USDOL), have established a formally registered apprenticeship system within CDCR institutions.

“Expanding apprenticeships to skilled workers inside our correctional facilities provides hope and opportunities to offenders when they leave prison,” said CDCR Secretary (A) Ralph Diaz. “We want the men and women who return to their communities to be successful, which in turn reduces recidivism and increases public safety.”

The Nov. 14 event recognized graduates in two fields – metal fabrication and healthcare facilities maintenance.

“The Department of Industrial Relations is pleased to join CDCR and CALPIA to celebrate these graduates,” said DIR’s Acting Director Andre Schoorl. “By completing rigorous on-the-job training through this apprenticeship program, these graduates have earned the tools and skills necessary to secure a job as they return to our communities.”

For more than three decades, vocational instructor Zane Walker has taught metal fabrication to offenders. He taught at Deuel Vocational Institution for 12 years and the last 20 has been spent at Folsom State Prison.

“I never promoted because I never wanted to,” he said, noting his job is rewarding.

He said he’s proud of the work the men have put into learning the program and earning their apprenticeships.

“It’s good for the guys and it’s good for their employment opportunities,” Walker said. “(We have a few) guys who are highly employable not just because of their skill level but because of their willingness to work with others. That’s a huge skill.”

Offenders obtain workplace knowledge, skills and industry-recognized credentials through the apprenticeship training. CALPIA’s registered apprenticeship program provides on-the-job training and job-related technical instruction.

“This apprenticeship system represents an impressive partnership among industry, labor, education, and government,” said CALPIA’s Chief of Workforce Development Branch Milo Fitch. “There is a demand for certified journey-persons, and this program delivers top-notch skilled workers for California.”

One inmate, who said he’s getting out in about four months, believes the program gives offenders a chance to do something positive.

“It gives you hope,” said another inmate. “It gives you a sense of belonging and something to do and be successful. I’m a landscaper so this gives me something to fall back on. I go home in four months.”

Daniel Barrios, one of the lead welders in the program, said this program taught him how to deal with other personality types. Already a welder when he was incarcerated, the certification gives him an edge on other job seekers when he is released.

“I started (welding) when I was 17 so that was 1978,” he said. “The biggest benefit is mostly in dealing with people. I knew (welding) before I got here so really it helped with social interaction. I got a lead position so I had to work with all kinds of different people. Some of them never did anything in their lives. They never had a job.”

Speaking to the gathering of graduates at Folsom State Prison, CALPIA General Manager Charles Pattillo said the men should be proud of their accomplishment.

“This isn’t an award,” he said. “You’ve earned this. You aren’t starting at the bottom when you get out.”

Warden Rick Hill noted the amount of time the graduates devoted to earning their certification.

“(The requirement) varies from 2,000 to 8,000 hours to achieve journey-level certification,” he said. “Prisons are not known to be fun places. Today you are demonstrating on which side of the wall you belong. Continue on your path of education.”

CDCR Undersecretary (A) Kathleen Allison thanked Pattillo for his dedication to helping offenders learn employable skills.

“He’s been a game-changer for prison industries,” she said. “He brought (CALPIA) to the next level.”

Turning her attention to the graduates, she told them this certification will make a real difference in their lives.

“This is a huge milestone for you guys,” Undersecretary Allison said. “When you get out there, you’ll have something you didn’t have before. … I believe in making a difference in people’s lives, in your lives. Do not let what brought you here define you. Rise above it. Leave it behind. (With this certification) you’ll  have something to prove it.”

By Dec. 31, 2018, apprenticeship opportunities will be available in every CDCR institution, with over 5,000 offenders to be registered as apprentices. The number of hours to obtain Journey-person level varies by job classification, ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 total hours. In addition, all apprentices are required to complete 144 hours annually of “Related Supplemental Instruction.”

“Today is a historic day for these graduates,” said DIR’s Division of Apprenticeship Standards Chief Eric Rood. “They have earned an apprenticeship certificate that represents the highest level of competency in careers in their field. These apprenticeship programs with CALPIA provide second chances along with a trained and skilled workforce for California businesses.”