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Grant would fund LSCPA effort to educate, help find employment for outgoing inmates

A program aimed at the education and employment of low- to moderate-risk inmates could soon come to the area following a grant application between Lamar State College Port Arthur and Jefferson County.

The grant proposal, which is listed on the Tuesday agenda for Commissioners Court, was submitted three weeks ago to the U.S. Department of Labor. And while it’s a competitive venture, officials feel confident in their chances.

“I think we’ve got a compelling argument,” said Dr. Ben Stafford, vice president for workforce and continuing education at LSCPA, regarding the funds that will be given to only 15 applicants in the U.S.

“We can show people who come out of this facility will have a clear path from job training to job placement,” he added, citing expansion projects planned for local refineries as an ongoing supply of employment opportunities.

Called Pathway Home 2, funds are part of a pilot program, according to the Department of Labor.

“The purpose of this pilot program is to provide eligible, incarcerated individuals in state correctional facilities or local or county jails with workforce services prior to release; and to continue these services after release by transitioning the participant into re-entry programs in the communities to which they will return,” said Department of Labor spokesperson Chauntra Rideaux in a written statement to Port Arthur Newsmedia.

“These projects ensure transitioning offenders are prepared to meet the needs of their local labor markets with the skills valued by employers.”

The deadline to apply was March 16.

“This is something I totally support,” said Commissioner Michael Sinegal. “My degree is in criminal justice. I’m all about the education and rehabilitation of ex-offenders and giving them another chance. Enough people do not take advantage of education.”

Sinegal said high school dropouts often end up in prison because they feel there’s no hope in finding a job.

According to a report from the Department of Justice, five of six prisoners are arrested at least one time within nine years of their first offense.

“Overall, 68 percent of released state prisoners were arrested within three years, 79 percent within six years, and 83 percent within nine years,” the 2018 report states.

Documents filed with the county say, if approved, the county will provide LSCPA with training space needed for training and pre-release services and “minimal” use of Internet services to provide education and training.

“Recidivism is a major problem in the U.S.,” Stafford said. “This would let us do light skills and job skills training for low- and medium-risk inmates while they’re still in the facility, typically in their last 60 days. Then we’d follow that up with job training post-release.”

According to the agreement between the college and the county, LSCPA will be able to provide pre-release life and job skills to at least 105 people per month.