[StBernard] Rebuilding communities by rebuilding our workforce

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Wed Oct 3 00:13:04 EDT 2007

Rebuilding communities by rebuilding our workforce
A column by Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco

As your Governor, I have focused on key areas to strengthen opportunities in Louisiana: improving the state's educational system, attracting robust economic development, and reversing poverty rates. One look at our state's prison system tells a clear story that decades of neglect in these key areas have taken their toll.

Louisiana's incarceration rate leads the nation. The average state inmate performs on a sixth grade level. With poor educational and employment prospects, released inmates often face the revolving door of prison and crime

Since taking office, my administration has worked to reform this system, and the Department of Corrections has received millions of dollars in federal grants to boost its reentry initiative for released inmates. This investment is paying off. Last year, there was a decrease in Louisiana's incarceration rate for the first time in several years.

Strangely enough, another boost to our reform efforts has come from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The rebuilding effort has led to a major shortage of construction workers - a current deficit of 95,000 skilled workers in Louisiana alone. Last year, Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson formed a partnership with the South Central Labor Training and Apprenticeship Fund to train non-violent inmates in a variety of areas - construction, concrete, mold and mildew remediation, and asbestos abatement.

The program identifies inmates nearing the end of their sentences who will be released back to their communities in one of the 20 parishes affected by the hurricanes. An inmate is able to enroll in a seven-week class and earn certifications that will help him quickly secure a job upon his release - a great first step in his successful re-entry into the community.

The construction program has been such a success it is now offered at two other institutions - Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport and C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy. So far, more than 115 inmates have finished the program, and many have gone on to work in stable, good-paying jobs. This training is also open to the general public free of charge, thanks to funding provided by a grant from the Louisiana Recovery Authority.

The Department of Corrections is also strengthening its partnership with the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS) to offer more construction sector programming to inmates courtesy of a Louisiana Workforce Commission grant. This effort will provide for additional LCTCS instructors and programming at all state institutions, as well as mobile training labs for welding, plumbing and carpentry classes.

Louisiana's rebuilding efforts will continue for a long time. Non-violent offenders have much to contribute to this effort as they return to their communities. By teaching real skills that can be immediately used in rebuilding our coastal communities, we're investing in far more than bricks and mortar. We're investing in a more skilled workforce; we're investing in economic development; and we're investing in public safety for years to come.


The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation
Louisiana's Fund for Louisiana's People

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