With an emphasis being put on addressing the state’s criminal justice system, Labor Cabinet officials and others discussed the importance of training and getting people back to work after incarceration at the second meeting of the Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council Thursday.
The Criminal Justice Policy Assessment Council, a group appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, including Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson, in June to study all aspects of Kentucky’s criminal justice system and recommend changes to the 2017 General Assembly, heard testimony from two groups that are working to make offender re-entry successful and reduce the state’s recidivism rates, which is the number of people who re-offend after they are released.
The panel first heard from Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey and members of his staff who explained their goal to strengthen a state apprenticeship program currently in place by setting up pilot projects in three corrections facilities. The program will train inmates based on certain criteria and work with businesses to coordinate employment once they are released.
Ramsey stated he believes Kentucky is “tailor made” for such a program and expressed excitement for this type of initiative.
Labor Cabinet officials explained that to qualify for the programs, an inmate must have a GED and there will be some criteria based on behavior and other factors.
As for funding of the program, it was explained that primary funding comes from the state’s General Fund as the General Assembly approved $500,000 for this in the most recent budget for fiscal years 2017-2018. Other funding sources include $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor and the possibility of $900,000 to $2.4 million in additional funds coming from a grant for which the department is applying through the Department of Labor which is due September 7.
There was also discussion of making sure “soft skills” are part of such trainings as they are a primary concern among employers who continue to be faced with a workforce unable to show up on time and complete normal workplace functions.
Another group presenting to the group was Kentuckiana Works Construction Pipeline, a coalition which has helped ensure minority groups and women living in a community are being hired on projects in their community rather than bringing in outside labor.
Jim Host, the former Secretary of Commerce under Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who is involved with Kentuckiana Works and played a key role in the hiring process for the Yum! Center project, told the council that the project set and exceeded goals including making sure 20 percent of the people working on that project were minorities, five percent were women or women owned businesses, and 75 percent were locally hired.
Host discussed the success of the project in putting people back to work in their own communities rather than hiring outside labor.
Because of this, Host said legislation should be passed that would set these types of guidelines for all public projects in the state.
The Chair of the council, Justice Secretary John Tilley, also addressed the group on a piece of legislation which would alleviate barriers for occupational licenses for convicted felons. He stated that while in the legislature he had sponsored the bill previously and that currently in Kentucky a convicted felon can practice law or medicine, but can’t cut hair. Secretary Tilley said he hoped with the formation of the group the conversation on this legislation could continue in the upcoming General Assembly.
The next meeting of the group is set for August.