California Prison Industry Authority Participants Finding Meaningful Work


California Prison Industry Authority Participants Finding Meaningful Work
By: Eric Reslock, Chief, External Affairs, California Prison Industry Authority

Work opportunities make prisons safer by reducing idleness, but helping inmates obtain meaningful employment after release is the ultimate objective. 

The California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) offers two distinct paths for preparing inmates to be “job ready” post-release.  Most CALPIA participants work in business enterprises, but some may enroll in a Career Technical Education (CTE) training program.  Both programs have documented recidivism rates far below the general population. 

All CALPIA programs focus on helping inmates learn the value of work. Many CALPIA participants have never held a job.  To remain eligible for work opportunities or training, inmates must behave appropriately, do quality work, report to work on time, and follow occupational health and safety rules.

CALPIA also offers an Inmate Employability Program that documents and certifies inmates’ skills, work experience, and positive work habits acquired while assigned to CALPIA’s enterprises and training programs.

To assist their development and increase the likelihood of employment, all CALPIA inmate employees and CTE participants are required to obtain a high school diploma, or complete a GED, within two-years of beginning the program. Inmates who demonstrate a commitment and readiness are given the opportunity to participate in both government and private industry-linked occupational certification programs.

Sally Woods paroled out of Valley State Prison (VSP) in 2010.  She worked in the CALPIA optical enterprise at VSP for nine years.  Before release Woods was certified as a final inspector by the California Department of Health.  She now works for a large eyeglass manufacturing corporation in California.  Woods said, “I’m grateful for what CALPIA did for me.  It turned a negative into a positive.”

Less Gross worked on diesel engines for CALPIA’s trucking fleet at California State Prison, Corcoran and was released in 2007.  He now works as a welder in Las Vegas.  Less said, “CALPIA treated us like people rather than inmates.  The program taught me life skills to use in the world.  CALPIA made me a leader.”

In the CTE program, paroling inmates are eligible for placement in a full-scale apprenticeship with a participating union.   CALPIA pays the initial union dues and provides a full complement of tools to inmates who complete the program.  Many CTE participants find employment with non-union employers by way of their certificates in ironworking, carpentry, labor, modular construction, or commercial diving.  The recidivism rate for the CTE program is less than 15 percent. 

Jim Malarkey was paroled out of California State Prison, Sacramento in 2008.  Shortly before release, he graduated from the CTE labor and construction program and went directly into a union apprenticeship.  Malarkey credits his CTE training with helping him get off to a good start because he started with skills other apprentices lacked.  Since leaving prison, Malarkey has held numerous union jobs and is now working on the Sacramento Light Rail extension line.  Malarkey said, “Bottom line, you have to be willing to do it.  You have to let the old friends go and set goals for yourself.”