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Oklahoma CareerTech Joins Partnership to Train Offenders Preparing for Work Release

Oklahoma CareerTech Joins Partnership to Train Offenders Preparing for Work Release

The first class graduated Sept. 10 and there is a waiting list for the next class.

Sept 15, 2015

It’s a well-known statistic: Offenders who have a good job when they are released are less likely to get into trouble. Unfortunately, many offenders are incarcerated at a time in their lives when they don’t have a good job, and they don’t have the skills they need to earn a sustainable wage.

A newly formed Oklahoma partnership is working to reverse that fact with a six-week mobile welding program. The program is the result of an initiative started by the Skills Centers division of Oklahoma CareerTech, The Education and Employment Ministry, It’s My Community Initiative, Work Ready Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

The first group of seven welders graduated from the fast-track training program Sept. 10.  The offenders housed at the Oklahoma City Community Corrections Center learned basic welding and safety techniques. DOC District Supervisor Brian Thornburgh said the inmates chosen for the program are almost ready to go home.

“They paid for what they did, and their time is up,” he said. “They’re getting ready to go on work release.”

John Cline, one of the offenders in the inaugural class, had some welding experience before he was incarcerated two years ago, but CareerTech Skills Centers instructor Robbie Sanders said welding is a skill you will lose if you aren’t using it. Cline agreed.

John Cline
John Cline
“This is a great opportunity to hone my welding skills,” Cline said. “And I can help mentor some of the less experienced guys, because I’ve done this before.”

Cline said he’s matured with age since he was first incarcerated, adding, “When I was younger, I didn’t see a future. With this welding program, now I see a future.”

Welders in Oklahoma are in short supply and high demand, and the fast-track welding program has piqued the interest of welding firms such as W&W Steel in Oklahoma City. The steel fabricating company donated steel for students to use during the hands-on training, and program graduates will be eligible for jobs at W&W Steel.

Thornburgh said inmates on work release get to keep about 30 percent of their paycheck while they're incarcerated. A job at W&W Steel would allow the offenders to earn money toward their fines and incarceration fees and even allow them to put a portion of their wages in a savings account to help pay for living expenses after they’re released.

Welding student Larry Lankford poured concrete before he was incarcerated. He’s excited about his salary potential with his newly acquired welding skills.

“I want to use the money I earn to get caught up on my child support payments,” he said.

The welding lab is attached to a trailer so it can be moved to wherever it’s needed, possibly even another corrections center, giving more students the opportunity to take advantage of the training.  Skills Centers instructor Mike Low helped build the lab. He says the trailer is equipped with everything students need to practice shielded metal arc welding, oxy fuel cutting and metal preparation.

Instructors Mike Low and Robbie Sanders

Sanders, who has worked for CareerTech for 30 years, said this program is the most exciting thing he’s been involved in.  There is already a waiting list for the next session, he added.

For many of the inmates, a job with benefits and insurance is a new experience. Freedom brings both challenges and opportunities, however, so the six-week program also includes life skills classes offered by TEEM.

“They’re teaching me about managing my finances and money,” said Darrin Kile, an offender in the program. “I appreciate them taking the time to do that, and I appreciate and respect all of the teachers who are helping us.”

Sanders said many of the students in the program lack family support.  

“If they see that you care and that you believe they can succeed,” he said, “they'll do everything they can to prove you right.”


Link to Skills Centers

OKLAHOMAN Story Oklahoma welding program lets inmates forge job options for life after prison

Contact: Connie Romans,  Communications and Marketing

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