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."