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'My faith teaches me that there are second chances in this life': Kentucky governor promotes 'prison-to-work' program

The goal is to match incarcerated Kentuckians with state businesses in need of workers by allowing employers to virtually interview prisoners.
Credit: AP
FILE - Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks during the opening day of the Kentucky State Legislature special session on Sept. 7, 2021, in Frankfort, Ky. Beshear said Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022, that he's asking for a review of how many Kentuckians have marijuana possession convictions, as he considers President Joe Biden's request that governors issue pardons for people convicted of state marijuana offenses. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear on Monday promoted a “prison-to-work” initiative aimed at offering second chances for those incarcerated in Kentucky by having jobs lined up for them before they leave custody.

The goal is to match them with Kentucky businesses in need of workers by allowing employers to virtually interview prisoners, the governor said at a news conference. Incarcerated people also will receive help in writing resumes and preparing for interviews with prospective employers.

“The goal is for reentering inmates to have a job offer and ready to start to work the day they walk out of the gate,” said Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Secretary Kerry Harvey.

Beshear's administration is teaming with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to promote the initiative. It will be offered at all 13 state prisons and 19 local jails that house state incarcerated people.

Beshear cited the redemptive value of the program, saying: “My faith teaches me that there are second chances in this life and that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.”

The Democratic governor also pointed to broader societal benefits — including the anti-crime value of the Prison-to-Work Pipeline program, which launched in late summer and is being ramped up. By helping ex-inmates find work, they are less likely to commit new crimes, he said.

The initiative comes amid strong job growth and historically low unemployment rates in Kentucky.

Kentucky posted record-high totals for private-sector investment and job creation in 2021, and is on pace for at least its second-best totals ever in 2022, Beshear said. The Bluegrass State added more than 80,000 new jobs from September 2021 to September 2022, he said.

For those leaving custody, it means that it's about "the best opportunity anyone has ever had when you come out to rebuild your life, to have secure employment, to get back with your family, to make sure what landed you in incarceration isn’t what you are remembered for,” the governor said.

But the state's workforce participation rate has lagged behind pre-pandemic levels — becoming a constant struggle for many employers looking to fill jobs.

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Ashli Watts pointed to statistics showing Kentucky has more than 160,000 open jobs and fewer than 80,000 people actively seeking careers.

Multiple factors contribute to the sluggish workforce participation rate, but the initiatives promoted Monday are a step toward overcoming them, she said.

“To help ensure that we have the workforce to fill the jobs of today and tomorrow, we need to make sure that every Kentuckian who wants to work is fully able to do so,” Watts said. “In many instances, this means removing barriers to employment. One such barrier is trying to join the workforce with a criminal record or with a history of substance use disorder.”

Watts mentioned other efforts by the chamber to remove the barriers to work for Kentuckians with criminal records or a history of substance use disorder.

Employers interested in participating in the Prison-to-Work Pipeline program should contact the Kentucky Chamber, the governor's office said in a news release.    

In another step, Beshear's administration said Monday that it is expanding a job readiness simulation program for incarcerated Kentuckians. The virtual learning experience aims to have incarcerated people prepared for job interviews and employment once released from custody, state Department of Corrections Commissioner Cookie Crews said in the release.

The program is offered to those at Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women and Luther Luckett Correctional Complex who are nearing the completion of their sentences. Beshear's administration plans to expand the program statewide in 2023, the news release said.

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