NewsCovering Kentucky


'Life changing': Kentucky invests into second-chance employment opportunities

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Posted at 5:14 PM, Jun 19, 2024

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky's incarceration rate is high.

If Kentucky was a country, it would have the 7th highest incarceration rate in the world. That's according to a 2021 analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative.

That means there are a lot of people with felonies on their record after they are released from prison or jail. And those felonies can make it difficult for people to find good, stable work.

So, in the last few years, the state has invested into second chance programs, such as the re-entry program. This April, Kentucky even launched a website,, to connect "Kentuckians overcoming addiction or leaving incarceration to resources that can help them find a job, get an education and support their continued recovery."

Gov. Andy Beshear says second-chance employment is "better than ever" in Kentucky, but he believes "we still need to do more."

"When we look at the three lowest years for recidivism, it's two things. It's treatment in our jails and prisons," said Beshear. "And it's second chance employment."

"The number one thing that prevents people from re-offending, or re-using, is a stable job. And right now, we need the employees too. We're at this moment that if we do it right, we can make great strides in battling this drug epidemic and putting families back together. And at the same time, giving our employers the employees they need," added Beshear. "It's breaking down stigmas too, which is wonderful to see. And just hearing the employers talk about it - and then the employees and what it's meant to them - is pretty special."

Scot Ratzlaff, the park manager at Kentucky Dam Village Park, is one of the employers who has positive things to say about the re-entry program.

"We’ve got three candidates currently on staff. We’re looking at a fourth candidate," said Ratzlaff. "For us, it’s working out very well."

"They're really trying to be a vital member of society," he added.

Ratzlaff explained that he won't hire people with really bad backgrounds because his park hosts families on vacation. However, he believes there are some mistakes that shouldn't hold people back from employment.

"Why not? Why not? We’re all about second chances nowadays," he said.

"If you’re willing to work, I'm going to put you to work," he added.

Sarah Young is one of Ratzlaff's second-chance employees. She was hired as a cook, but now, she does a lot of the baking for the park's restaurant.

"She had some background in food service, and she got herself south of the law," said Ratzlaff. "I mean, that’s just what it came down to. She had to take her punishment. She took her punishment. She came to us and she’s absolutely awesome."

"Baking in the food service industry is one of the hardest positions to ever fill - a good baker," added Ratzlaff. "And Sarah wants to be a baker. I mean, c’mon, is that not a perfect fit then?"

It is a perfect fit, according to Young.

"I make everything with love, so it tastes really good," said Young as she was busy making multiple trays of dessert ahead of the dinner buffet rush.

"I get to do what I love, so it’s awesome," she added.

Young said she never expected to be able to have a job like the one she has now. She explained that the stigma surrounding felons makes it difficult to get good, stable employment.

"Applying for a job as a felon, you’re pretty limited - to where you can even apply, for one. And then depending on what kind of felony you have, you may or may not get that job," she explained. "Like, I didn’t get hired at Dollar General because of one of my felonies. "

So, she encourages people leaving incarceration to look into the state's re-entry program.

"Nobody really wants to go hang out with probation and parole and see what they can do for you, but maybe give them a try," Young said. "They really will open up a lot of doors. A lot of doors."

"They did for me," she added.

For Young, her job means security and hope for a better future.

"The job security alone is worth it," she said. "I’ve never been in a place where I can really stay there forever and not have to worry about, like, if the restaurant falls through or, I don’t know, just anything. It feels more secure being in a locked-in position that I have."

"I don’t know where it’ll take me. As of right now, I just go day by day," she added. "I’m definitely open to anything that it offers me, for sure."

The program is life-changing, according to Young.

"It may not take away my felonies, but it will definitely help me have a better future," she said.