Oklahoma CareerTech Expanding Inmate Training Opportunities

Thanks in part to a nearly $900,000 federal grant, more Oklahoma inmates are being offered a chance to learn skills that will help them rebuild their lives outside prison walls after their release. According to Oklahoma CareerTech Deputy Director Justin Lockwood, those skills will greatly reduce the chance an inmate will return to prison.

“The likelihood of an inmate being reincarcerated after release is much greater if we don’t prepare them for life on the outside,” said Lockwood. “It’s a model that works.”

The model Justin referred to is CareerTech’s Skills Centers programs, which offer inmate training at 17 sites around the state. Several of those sites have been added since CareerTech received the Department of Justice grant in December 2021, including Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita. CareerTech recently added three instructors at that site to teach welding; transportation, distribution and logistics; and career readiness programs.

“We’re trying to change our model of instruction to include more community correction inmates,” Lockwood said.

Community correction inmates are allowed to leave the prison to go to work sites. They continue to receive instruction once a week, so they can build their skill set while they are employed. That employment is important because it allows them to pay off fines and other expenses incurred during incarceration.

CareerTech has also added a career readiness program at J.H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley and two new programs at James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena. Inmates in Helena may be eligible to apply for career readiness and automotive repair programs.

Since CareerTech began training inmates, more than 2,000 students have completed one or more Skills Centers program. Ninety-five percent of all program completers find jobs after release, with 85% of Skills Centers graduates finding jobs directly related to their training.

Although it’s not a new site, McAlester Skills Center in McAlester will soon offer a new career readiness program.

Lockwood said the Department of Corrections understands the value of training its inmates, and DOC continues to work with CareerTech to identify potential training sites.

Along with valuable job skills and life skills training, CareerTech also employs transition coordinators who help inmates find housing, clothing and other essential items they will need when they are released.

The DOJ grant not only allows CareerTech to add additional training programs and increase the number of inmates it serves, but it also addresses Oklahoma’s demand for skilled workers in areas such as welding, electricity and machining.

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