LA jobs program creates job opportunities and stability after incarceration

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More than a quarter of formerly incarcerated adults are unemployed. A California program is working to change that.

In the early months of COVID-19, unemployment in the United States soared to more than 14%, and some experts feared it could be closer to Great Depression highs of around 25%. While the latest January figures show a return to pre-pandemic levels of 4%, for those recently incarcerated, these Great Depression statistics remain the norm. According to a report by the Prison Policy Initiative, formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of more than 27%.

Playa Vista Jobs (PVJobs), a construction-focused vocational training program in Los Angeles, helps recently released individuals smoothly reintegrate and find stable employment long before the pandemic hits. They have been well positioned – after the closures at the start of the pandemic, construction has continued, with spending rising 1.3% in January to an annual rate of $1.67 trillion.

PV Jobs’ flagship initiative is the Hatch program, a three-phase program designed to prepare participants for employment in the construction industry or elsewhere. The program begins with a three-week incubator stage that runs Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“This period helps to refocus and open their minds to learning new things while healing past traumas,” says Mary Taylor, executive director of PVJobs.

The majority of interns come to PVJobs after leaving prison, and many participants have never graduated from high school. The program provides decompression time and job skills in a stable environment, including regular meals.

“It’s a family environment that we create by serving meals—chocolate chip pancakes, breakfast burritos, barbecues, and all kinds of nutritious meals,” Taylor says. “It creates a sense of trust. They put their career in our hands and expect us to provide them with adequate training and concrete results for sustainable employment, and that is what we are doing.

After the incubator stage, they have a graduation where they invite friends and family.

“We’re looking at them to be reintroduced into the community,” Taylor says. “We see tears streaming down their faces and the faces of the family.”

Participants then move immediately into a 500-hour journeyman carpenter training program across the street, which lasts approximately four months. When they are done building a tiny code house, they are introduced to employers where some can be sponsored into the union.

Many find jobs well before the four months are up, but if not, PVJobs has a partnership with Southwest Carpenters that places them on a project site. A mentor visits the sites once a week to make sure everything is going well and they have long-term success. Some participants find that construction is not for them after graduation, so they have options in other industries.

PVJobs started over two decades ago, but was able to grow significantly after the Federal Department of Labor began funding five different programs in 2018. They have also received support from local regulatory structures and other donors. funds, notably the CDFI Clearinghouse, which helped fund the purchase and renovation of a corporate headquarters in 2009.

“Our mission is to support economic development projects that create jobs and services in disadvantaged areas,” said Douglas J. Bystry, CEO of Clearinghouse. “We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to strengthen their community and improve their quality of life.

PVJobs serves as the jobs coordinator for many large public works projects that must adhere to labor agreements that state that their construction workforce must contain at least 30% local residents and 10% at-risk residents. The developers have since extended these provisions to commercial tenants leasing these spaces, opening up an array of different jobs for PVJobs participants. They have two new locations in downtown Los Angeles at LA Plaza, including a Los Angeles Hilton branded hotel.

There are currently 990 people actively enrolled in their 10 federal, state and local programs, including the Riverside County-funded Riverside Youth Program for youth 17 and under who have not entered the criminal justice system. The idea is to show them that adults are united. They also continue to focus on their core population of recently incarcerated adults.

“That’s one of the things photovoltaic works do exceptionally well,” Taylor says. “Engage our participants and provide them with a safe space to take charge of their own transition to community.”

This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lens of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is generously supported by Partners for the Common Good. Sign up for PCG’s CapNexus newsletter at capnexus.org.

Hadassah Patterson has been writing for media outlets for more than a decade, contributing seven years to local news online and with 15 years of business writing experience. She currently covers politics, business, social justice, culture, food and wellness.

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