FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — On Monday, Governor Andy Beshear announced two new programs to boost workforce participation by helping people find jobs before they're released from prison.
"The ultimate goal is for these folks to have a job start date before they leave prison," said Beshear.
The first program is the Prison-to-Work Pipeline. It will allow businesses in all 120 Kentucky counties to conduct virtual job interviews with inmates at all 13 state prisons and 19 local jails that house state inmates.
“We know - we absolutely know through decades of research and data - that when these individuals have employment and housing, they are far less likely to re-offend, which makes us safer," said Beshear. "And they are far less likely to return to prison."
"There’s a better opportunity for second-chance employment than ever before," added Beshear. "So, those who have made mistakes - those who are currently incarcerated - this is maybe the best opportunity that anyone has ever had when you come out to rebuild your life."
And Kentucky needs the workers right now.
Ashli Watts, the CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, points out that Kentucky's workforce participation rate sits at 58%, the seventh lowest rate in the nation.
"There are more than 160,000 open jobs throughout the Commonwealth and less than 80,000 people actively looking for careers," said Watts. "That is two jobs for every one person looking."
According to the Department of Corrections, more than 13,100 people are released from prison annually after completing their sentences. One of the most frequent barriers to successful reentry in the United States is the lack of employment.
Through Kentucky's program, people leaving prison can find jobs while helping fill the many openings Kentucky has.
“The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce has long been an advocate for addressing the state’s low workforce rate, and we see advancing career opportunities for individuals with justice-involved backgrounds as one step in this process. Not only are we able to connect individuals in need of employment with employers looking for candidates, but we are able to connect individuals in industries where they have prior experience and skills,” Watts said. "We are excited to see how this initiative allows employers to tap into a new workforce of people ready and willing to work.”
The second program is the Job Readiness Simulation. It will offer inmates the ability to learn job skills virtually.