Group To Train Soon-To-Be Free Inmates For High-Demand Jobs

LAKE CHARLES, LA (AP) — A local group has been formed to help soon-to-be-released inmates reintegrate into society.

         The goal of the Southwest Louisiana Re-Entry Alliance is to help local organizations better communicate with one another as they work to help inmates prepare for jobs once they are released. The hope is a "smooth transition," said Esther Vincent, Lake Charles city director of community services.

         With the upcoming growth in Southwest Louisiana, there are jobs, such as welding, for which the area does not have enough workers trained, Vincent said.

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         "What we want to have happened is to see how we can train them while they're in there and they can continue their training once they get out," Vincent said. "It's going to be a selective group that we would be working with."

         Various government agencies, as well as nonprofit groups, are part of the alliance, Vincent said.

         The first order of business for the alliance is a website that would serve as a guide for the various organizations, said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. Some programs are already in place, but the website would help people know what services are available.

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         "It's not so much that you're creating a program for a person as much you are trying to connect a person with a program that they can take advantage of," Roach said.

         Roach said his passion for the idea grew after hearing the story of a former inmate who had been trained as a welder as part of a prisoner rehabilitation program.

         "This training really helped him turn his life around," he said. "He now was a proud father of two wonderful children, doing well as a welder, having a good living. His wife was also doing well in her employment, and he was able to provide a home for his mom and dad. It was a great success story."

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         Roach reached out to Joseph Fleishman, vice chancellor at Sowela Technical Community College, who had experience working in prisoner re-entry programs. "If we don't give them a skill, if they don't have something more than what they went in with, what are they going to do?" Fleishman said.

         As the program evolves, Sowela will be involved in the training and education of the inmates, Fleishman and Vincent said. Some of that training may be done at prison and some at Sowela. Only nonviolent offenders would be allowed in the program, Vincent said.

         While all the details haven't been hashed out, those allowed in the program would only be those who aren't a risk to others, Fleishman said.

         "These are individuals who are looking to re-enter," Fleishman said. "They are not looking to cause any trouble to keep themselves in that facility one day longer. They are looking to get the skills to be free and independent."

         Fleishman worked in prisoner education in both Arizona and Iowa, he said. He has found that prisoners often do not have a strong educational background.

         "They understood that education was the answer and that they didn't have it, but they didn't know how to get back into it," Fleishman said.

         "Once we were able to get them on that track, they wanted to learn so badly because they knew that was their ticket to break the cycle. That has been my experience. They are the best students, they are motivated. They are doing everything in their power to change their lives, and all we have to do is get them in the right direction."

         "If all we did as a result of all the meetings we had was help one person turn their life around, I think it was worth it," Roach said. "That's our measure of success — helping people change their lives, and not necessarily focusing on how many."

         – by AP Reporter Johnathan Manning with The American Press

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