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New California prison program allows inmates to land jobs from behind bars pending their release

California prison program helps inmates transition into workforce upon release
California prison program helps inmates transition into workforce upon release 03:05

VACAVILLE -- One of the biggest hurdles for those incarcerated when they get out of prison is finding a job.

Without work, many who have been behind bars for years face significant challenges to successfully transitioning back into society. A new program called "Entry to Employment" inside California state prisons is working to change that.

"This E2E program can truly, truly be a game changer for us as an organization and I don't say that lightly," said Bill Davidson, general manager for the California Prison Industry Authority (CAL PIA).

The first-of-a-kind program in California is connecting those incarcerated to jobs in the real world while they are still behind bars.

The program was first rolled out at Solano State Prison this year and on Wednesday, leaders gathered to announce the news among a crowded room of supporters from various state agencies.

"We all make mistakes and because we make mistakes, we all deserve opportunities for second chances," Davidson said.

Thousands of inmates across California, including nearly 6,000 participating in CAL PIA job training programs, are getting both job training and real job experience in prison.

That includes work like welding and technical training to become opticians, where at Solano State Prison glasses for Medi-Cal patients are repaired by hand.

One inmate involved told CBS13 he found purpose through work at the Lens Lab even decades into his sentence.

"It gives me an opportunity to be proud of what I do, where I can be a person that's helpful versus a person tearing down the community," he said.

CAL PIA's new E2E program shifts focus from what has been decades of investment in securing inmates hands-on job training behind bars and now emphasizes the importance of helping them transition into the workplace after they are released.

"If they can't actually get a job then at the end of the day what good is any of it?" Davidson asked.

E2E works with inmates in its program to apply for jobs using a secure online network while they are still behind bars about six months before they get out.

They also are taught interview skills, how to create their resume, how to use new technologies that have changed since many were first incarcerated, and how to set up secure email accounts.

The goal is that participants will walk out of prison and right into the workplace.

Davidson said that since piloting the program at Solano State Prison this year, they have already seen a success story.

"Doug got out of prison on April 17. Five days after returning home, he started his job with a large, nationwide manufacturing company," Davidson said.

There are 72 inmates enrolled in the program currently; they have applied for 91 jobs in total. Fausto Basso, incarcerated since 2006, hopes to be the next success story.

"I've viewed 17 jobs. I applied for eight of them," Basso said. "The job search is fantastic. It's endless opportunity for people like me."

With just 70 days left in his sentence, he has his resume out there and, possibly, a job.

"My father asked me in Italian, 'Are you scared?' I said, 'No, dad. I am anything but scared,' " Basso said. "This reduces my anxiety to where I know I am going to get job offers and get work when I get out."

Basso said he is confident he is not the same man who entered the prison 18 years ago. He largely credits the job and job training he has been given in the prison over the years for finding his purpose, drive and rehabilitation.

"It's life-changing. It really is. I know it sounds cliché but prison is the best thing that ever happened to me. It got my attention. I got myself on the right track to add to society instead of taking away," he said.

CAL PIA said 85% of inmates in their job programs do not return to prison. The agency is focusing on a seamless transition back into society for incarcerated individuals who are finding freedom in forging a new future.

Since the E2E network was launched at Solano State Prison, it's now expanded to four other state prisons, including San Quentin. Leaders hope to have it up and running at every prison in the state by next year.

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