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Job Training for Inmates


In the age of cutbacks to the criminal justice system, one thing we should preserve  --  yea, expand  --  is, we are told, job training for inmates.  In principle, this makes perfect sense.  If inmates don't have job skills, you don't have to be a genius to figure out what they're going to do to get money once they're released. 

But what, exactly, is the government's version of "job training?"  This would seem to be a central question, but I seldom see it asked.  A recent Wall Street Journal piece took a look.  The job training it surveyed was not specifically designed for inmates, but it's reasonable to assume that what inmates get won't be any better (when is it ever?).

What the WSJ found was that "job training" imparts, not so much marketable skills, as a combination of freebies for politicians, bad work habits for trainees, and outright nonsense.  For example:

...the Job Training Partnership Act, JTPA , spent lavishly--to expand an Indiana circus museum, teach Washington taxi drivers to smile, provide foreign junkets for state and local politicians, and bankroll business relocations. According to the Labor Department's inspector general, young trainees were twice as likely to rely on food stamps after JTPA involvement than before since the "training" often included instructions on applying for an array of government benefits.****

[The recent] stimulus package expanded federally funded summer jobs. And so young men and women used puppets to greet aquarium visitors in Boston. Teens in Washington, D.C.'s Green Summer Jobs Corps maintained "school-yard butterfly habitats." And summer workers in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reported, "practiced firm handshakes to ensure that employers quickly understand their serious intent to work."

The article is depressing but revealing.  It's a primer on what to bear in mind the next time you're lectured about the virtues of "job training."


The program most needed in prison, IMHO, is not job training but plain old work.

Prison industries are limited at present by antagonism to selling prison-made goods in the general economy, limiting them to use by the government. The theory is to avoid taking jobs from law-abiding citizens. But restricting according to customer is economically naive. If government uses prison-made goods instead of American-made privately produced goods, that costs jobs just as much as selling them on the open market. Conversely, selling goods on the market in a segment where substantially all of the competing goods are foreign made does not cost any American manufacturing jobs.

Prison industries need not have any net cost to the government. They might even produce a small profit. The skills learned might or might not be transferrable to jobs on the outside, but the "get up and go to work" mindset will.

"The program most needed in prison, IMHO, is not job training but plain old work."

I always suspected you were some kind of Neanderthal.

Kent makes a good point. The old argument against prison industries- that the products would unfairly compete against American workers- is no longer applicable since most of these products are manufactured overseas.

The federal prison system's Unicor industries has been successful in providing inmates with carpentry and HVAC skills that translated to outside employment.

In reviewing parole applicants, the most promising were those who had the initiative to work through the arduous Unicor program. The least promising were those who had been through some iteration of the government's urban -based job training programs. Not only did they lack marketable skills but they seemed negatively impacted by the "witches brew" that comprises government job training.

mjs --

Your observations brought to mind my father's seven-word version of "job training" for me: "Start working and you'll figure it out."

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