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Caltrans Announces Plans To Employ 1,350 Formerly Incarcerated Angelenos

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Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during the press conference Friday morning. Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Joe Buscaino stand on the left, and Patricia Allen, an advocate and journey-level Laborer in LIUNA Local 300, is on the right. (Photo courtesy of Mayor Eric Garcetti)
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Mayor Eric Garcetti and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced plans Friday morning to provide employment and on-the-job training to 1,350 formerly incarcerated individuals over the next three years.

The $8.93 million pact between Caltrans and the Mayor’s Office of Reentry will provide men and women on probation or parole with immediate, transitional employment on Caltrans work crews, according to a statement from the mayor's office. Participants will also receive training in job readiness, life skills and financial literacy during this transition period, along with access to a number of services including cognitive behavior therapy. Participants will be placed in permanent employment positions after the conclusion of the transitional period.

"Today's pact with Caltrans is a big step towards positively empowering those who need it the most," Councilman Joe Buscaino, who chairs of the city's Public Works Committee, said in a statement to LAist. Councilman Buscaino and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson also worked on the Caltrans program and joined the mayor at the press conference.

More than 45,000 people are paroled to Los Angeles County each year, with over 163,000 individuals passing through the County Jail system annually—the majority of whom also return to the city of Los Angeles, according to the mayor's office. Suffice it to say, reentry, and access to employment and services for formerly incarcerated individuals, is a major issue in the city, and one that rarely gets enough attention.

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“Los Angeles has been a city of second chances from its very beginnings—and today, we’re investing in redemption and opportunity for our people, in our time,” Garcetti said in a statement. “When formerly incarcerated men and women return home after being released from jail or prison, they deserve every chance to turn their lives around, earn an honest living, and redefine themselves through integrity and hard work."

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Tim Kornegay (right) stands with Eric Garcetti after the press conference.
Tim Kornegay, a community organizer with L.A. Voice, told LAist that the mayor spoke at the press conference about his commitment to lowering the barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. Garcetti has made removing barriers to employment a key priority for his office, and the new Caltrans partnership is one of a number of efforts that the mayor has spearheaded. Kornegay, who is formerly incarcerated, told LAist that having a criminal record can make it incredibly hard for an individual to find employment, saying that, more often than not, "you're measured more by your past history" than current abilities.

Employment plays a pivotal role in reducing recidivism—many studies identify it as the single most important factor at play—but formerly incarcerated individuals have long been effectively shut out of the job market, continually marked by the stigma of a criminal record long after they've served their time. A recent study quoted by the mayor's office estimated that up to 90% of formerly incarcerated Californians are unemployed at any given time. This disenfranchisement disproportionately affects low-income communities of color, making it not just a criminal justice issue, but also one of racial justice.

In coming weeks, the City Council will vote on the Fair Chance Initiative, an ordinance that would remove the felony conviction box from most initial job applications in the city. A number of other major cities including New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and D.C. have already passed similar ban-the-box legislation. Disclosure: this reporter has volunteered on Fair Chance organizing efforts in the past.

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"The efforts to ban the box have proven to provide stability and hope in addition to not just providing a job opportunity, but also a ladder to a career," Councilman Buscaino, who spent 15 years as an officer with the LAPD before running for council, said in a statement to LAist. "It's that ladder which changes an individual’s life and helps him or her to positively transform our neighborhoods."