On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate $2 million to fund a pilot program within the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, CA focused on preparing women to land career-level work upon their release from jail.
The issue of underemployment among people exiting jails and prisons is a particularly pressing one. Approximately 27 percent of formerly incarcerated people are looking for a job, but are still unemployed, a rate higher even than the general U.S. unemployment rate of 24.9 percent during the Great Depression, according to a 2018 study by the Prison Policy Initiative.
Women often face additional gender-based barriers to success after lock-up, like primary or single parenting responsibilities, and lower pre-jail income than men, which can make their reentry into the community even more difficult and stressful.
According to a 2016 report by the Vera Institute, “Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” nearly 80 percent of the women in jails are indeed mothers.
“Women find that they need to overcome extra barriers because they lack employable skills and may also be the primary caretakers of their children,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored Tuesday’s motion with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We can’t expect people to rebuild their lives if they’re not given a fair shot at a steady good-paying job.”
Back in October 2018, the supes approved a motion–also authored by Supervisors Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas–that called for a report back on the feasibility of creating a gender-responsive and trauma-informed job training program at CRDF–generally referred to as “Lynwood.”
In response to that motion, a workgroup composed of Sheriff, the Probation Department, the Department of Health Services, the Office of Diversion and Reentry, the Department of Public Social Services, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) produced a list of recommendations for launching the pilot program. The workgroup developed the recommendations based on best practices in other local jurisdictions, and on a career path center at Pitchess Detention Center. The workgroup drew “many lessons” from the Pitchess pilot program, which is slated to expire in September 2019.
Now, Tuesday’s motion will bring the Lynwood Jail-Based Job Center into being.
The two-tiered job center is expected to help approximately 200 women during its two years in service. The county will offer the program to women based on their sentence length, their career interests, and their personal needs.
Tier one of the center will offer women who have at least 30 days left in their sentence resume writing assistance and other “soft skills training,” as well as case management.
Tier two will offer women who have at least 90 days remaining on their sentences training and job placement in “high growth industries,” in addition to resume-writing and other job skills.
The program is expected to focus first on the culinary field, “as CRDF currently operates a popular culinary program that can be expanded upon and the County can leverage its relationships with multiple employment partners within this sector to connect women with positions pre-release,” according to the motion.
“This motion represents a continuation of the County’s work to provide opportunities and resources for incarcerated people preparing to reenter their communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “From the County’s creation of the Office of Diversion and Reentry to this Friday’s grand opening of the County’s first Reentry Opportunity Center, our efforts are focused on connecting people with jobs, housing, and supportive services to help them lead lives of dignity and integrity.”