U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship: Could It Be the Indispensable Tool in Corrections' Toolbox?

By Evans, Doug | Corrections Today, November-December 2017 | Go to article overview

U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship: Could It Be the Indispensable Tool in Corrections' Toolbox?


Evans, Doug, Corrections Today


Steven Johns spent more than 20 years inside Indiana's correctional system, knowing at some point he would reenter a world radically different than the one he left. Imagine the changes 20 years can make: new technologies, new generations, new culture. Upon leaving prison, individuals like Johns face exponential hardships adapting to their new life. The same could be said for Andrew Hardiek, who also spent a substantial amount of his life behind the prison fence. Today, however, both men are living successful lives on the other side. History would tell us, at least one, if not both, should have returned to prison by now; but neither has; Johns and Hardiek are beating the odds.

Why did these two gentlemen succeed when so many from similar circumstances do not? Johns and Hardiek had one thing in common: Both individuals successfully completed U.S. Department of Labor's (USDOL) apprenticeship programs during their time of incarceration. Certainly, there are additional factors for their success; however, apprenticeship proved significant in helping them overcome the barriers a felony conviction brings for individuals attempting to rebuild lives after incarceration.

Beginning the program

Registered Apprenticeship (RA) is still a relatively new program within the Indiana Department of Correction (IDOC). It began in early 2006, when representatives from USDOL and IDOC sat down to discuss the possibility of apprenticeship inside Indiana's correctional facilities. That initial meeting led to the registering of the Prison Enterprises Network (PEN) Industries' print shop. PEN Industries is the IDOC's Correctional Industries program.

No one knew where this new and innovative approach would lead, but on an April morning in 2006, 22 offenders left their housing units at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana, to go to work as usual in the PEN Industries' print shop. This time, there was one difference: These 22 men paved the way as the first IDOC-registered apprentices in the USDOL apprenticeship program. It would have been difficult to imagine on that day where this program would be and the impact it would have on so many lives over the next 11 years.

In the initial three years, USDOL only had RA occupations in the PEN operations. Many of the Correctional Industries work assignments lined up well with the USDOL standards and work processes. The USDOL representatives worked closely with PEN staff to develop the guidelines to apprentice all PEN occupations for those less easy to adapt. IDOC leadership began seeing firsthand the success and impact of apprenticeship within the PEN Industries operation. This led to a decision to expand apprenticeship into other areas of IDOC as well. Full-time offender work assignments that met USDOL requirements for apprenticeship included maintenance, landscaping, housekeeping, food service, etc. Not long after, all IDOC facilities began offering RAs in various offender facility work assignments.

Although apprenticeship growth exceeded expectations from the start, issues in consistency, structure, measurement and the overall quality of program delivery began to arise. The need to develop IDOC policy to define and guide the daily duties and procedures necessary to maintain the program compliance required by the USDOL became apparent. This new policy created guidelines and established a centralized office to govern the program through the department. As a result, the program grew in quantity and quality with enrollment, completions and the number of offenders releasing annually with USDOL apprenticeship certification.

A look at the program

While the apprenticeship program is still a relatively new component of reentry in the field of corrections, it has helped improve workplace training in the U.S. for more than 75 years. Congress enacted the National Apprenticeship Act (also known as the Fitzgerald Act) in 1937, establishing apprenticeship as it is today. …

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