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Offender Vocational Training – Teaching Skills for Employment

By Adrian A. Arriaga
TBCJ Member

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Providing programs and services that help offenders become responsible, productive members of their community is an essential part of reducing recidivism. The Career and Technology Education (CTE) program, operated by the Windham School District (WSD), accomplishes such through teaching marketable, vocational skills to offenders incarcerated in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

portrait of Adrian A. Arriaga
Adrian A. Arriaga
CTE provides specific vocational training designed to meet entry-level industry standards. This training is currently offered in 34 trade areas. It includes comprehensive shop programs in skilled occupations (e.g., building/construction, welding, automotive, electrical); short courses for specific prison jobs; apprenticeship programs; and on-the-job training coordinated with Texas Correctional Industries (TCI). Through partnerships with certification and licensing agencies, WSD also offers offenders opportunities to earn certifications that meet recognized business and industry standards. Currently, WSD collaborates with 15 industry-certifying entities; these include the Electronic Technicians Association, Automotive Service Excellence and the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association.

In the fall of 2006, WSD evaluated the impact of CTE vocational training on offenders’ post-release employment. Specifically, it reviewed the training services provided; the employment obtained upon release; whether the employment was related to the training received; the difference in earnings from the date of employment to its first anniversary date; and employment retention factors.

To conduct the required evaluation, WSD collaborated with the TDCJ, the Texas Workforce Commission and other entities to establish a system to collect and report data. As required by statute, WSD also consulted with the Legislative Budget Board on the evaluation and analysis of the training services.

As a target audience, WSD focused on offenders released from TDCJ facilities between April 1, 2004, and March 31, 2005. Of the 64,365 released, WSD excluded 49% (31,429) from the study for a variety of reasons, such as offenders released on detainers or from facilities other than state or private prisons and state jails, those without valid social security numbers, and releasees who participated in a vocational program but did not have a record of completion. WSD tracked the remaining offenders (32,935) for employment upon release, occupation and earnings. Of those offenders, 14% (4,747) had completed vocational training while in TDCJ (hereafter, known as the vocational group). The remaining 28,188 did not take advantage of the training opportunities (hereafter, known as the non-vocational group).

Results of the study found a larger percentage of the vocational group employed within one (1) year of release, compared to the non-vocational group. Of the vocational group employed within the year of release, 66% held employment in an occupation related to their vocational training with two (2) out of three (3) earning income in one (1) or more of those occupations. A review of the first year of employment, from initial date of employment to the first anniversary date, also revealed the vocational group was more likely to be employed on their first anniversary date as compared to the non-vocational group.

The study also compared earnings of the two (2) groups for the first and fourth quarters of the targeted year. Approximately 41% of the employed vocational group received an increase in earnings during that year, compared with 34% of the employed non-vocational group. The average salary difference from the first to the fourth quarter was $3,031 for the vocational group and $2,759 for the non-vocational group.

In addition, the study researched various factors as they related to the retention of employment – one being the advantage of holding an industry certification. Of the employed vocational group that had obtained an industry certification (17%), 62% retained employment for three (3) consecutive quarters of the test year. As to other factors considered, offenders in the vocational group who had attained a GED or high school diploma retained employment longer than those without. Offenders with college degrees in the vocational group also retained employment longer than like offenders in the non-vocational group. For all age groups, the vocational group retained employment at a higher percentage when compared to those in the non-vocational group.

As the study indicates, vocational training is an effective tool in helping offenders learn job skills that can lead to gainful employment upon release, employment that will provide the opportunity for successful re-integration as productive citizens and reduce the chance of recidivism.

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