Los Angeles, Caltrans Team Up to Provide Job Opportunities for City’s Former Inmates

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A new agreement in California shows how cities can improve public safety and help communities by supporting people returning from detention in jail.

(Getty Images)
Former inmates are less likely to commit crimes that cause them to return to prison if they become gainfully employed. Studies suggests that providing job training, money to get started in legitimate work, and employment opportunities could help curb repeat offenses. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino. This post is part of a series that previously featured Charlottesville, Virginia, Councilmember Kristin Szakos during National Reentry Week in April.

Up to 1,350 formerly incarcerated Angelenos will receive job training and a path to permanent employment with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) over the next three years, thanks to an agreement announced in June by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

The $8.93 million pact between Caltrans and the Mayor’s Office of Reentry will provide formerly incarcerated people on probation or parole with immediate, transitional employment as workers on Caltrans work crews. During the transitional employment time frame, participants will also receive training in employability, life skills and financial literacy, as well as cognitive behavior therapy and other services. At the conclusion of the transitional job period, they will be placed in permanent employment. The same service provider who will assist individuals with supportive services during their transitional Caltrans employment, will also help place individuals – when they are ready – into permanent employment in a variety of sectors including some positions with Caltrans.

The recidivism rate in Los Angeles is nearly 70 percent when individuals do not have a job and less than 3 percent when they do have a job and are working towards investing positively in their lives.

As a former Los Angeles Police Department officer for over 15 years, I know firsthand that nothing stops a bullet like a job.

Removing barriers to employment is a key priority in Mayor Garcetti’s administration. In April, the Mayor signed an Equitable Workforce Executive Directive, instructing city departments to prioritize L.A.’s most underemployed communities – including veterans, the formerly incarcerated and disconnected youth – in the hiring of about 5,000 new workers over the next three years. He has also launched a Blue Ribbon Commission on Employment Equity, an alliance of private and public sector employers committed to providing opportunities for the formerly incarcerated and others who have been historically excluded from upwardly-mobile jobs.

It’s no surprise that there is a spectrum of lasting effects from a surprisingly simple and relatively low-cost intervention: a job. Former inmates are less likely to commit crimes that cause them to return to prison if they become gainfully employed. Studies suggests that providing job training, money to get started in legitimate work, and employment opportunities could help curb repeat offenses.

Unemployment rates in four communities – Watts, South Los Angeles, Pacoima and the Harbor Gateway – are often three to four times greater than the city average. This is why we must take every opportunity make jobs a legitimate alternative to recidivism.

Our city’s Economic Workforce Development Department operates 17 Worksource Centers across the city, including the Watts and Harbor Gateway Centers in the 15th District that I represent.

I am proud to support the efforts of our city’s Workforce Development Board, in particular their innovative LA RISE program. This program provides a supportive work environment that offers on-the-job training and skill development for hard-to-serve populations.

It provides access to career and training services, such as vocational workshops, financial and computer literacy, and soft skills development, including resume building, interviewing techniques, and conflict resolution. In addition, the program helps participants stabilize their lives and improve their ability to keep a job. It does this by providing case management, goal setting, healthcare, childcare, and transportation assistance, as well as financial literacy training and a social support system.

These entry level job programs provide a pathway towards stability for individuals, families and neighborhoods.

Chef Roy Choi, the father of the food truck revolution in Los Angeles, recently opened LocoL, the first sit-down restaurant in Watts in 50 years, and a healthy alternative to cheap fast food. He hired 35 employees, many of them residents from the Jordan Downs Public Housing development. He provided them an opportunity, giving many of them with a troubled past a second chance.

This new pact with Caltrans is a big step towards positively empowering those who need it the most. These efforts provide stability and hope. They also provide not just a job opportunity, but a ladder leading to a career that changes an individual’s life and help to positively transform our neighborhoods.

As part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, the City Leadership to Reduce the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative launched by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families will introduce cities to this and other ways to support young adults involved in the criminal justice system at an upcoming Leadership Academy.

joe buscainoAbout the Author: Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino represents over 250,000 constituents from the Port of Los Angeles to Watts and serves as the Chair of Los Angeles Public Works Committee and on the NLC Board of Directors.