Union Construction Jobs offer a Way out of Gang Life


With nearly 650,000 people released from state and federal prison every year, programs need to be available to support reentry into society.  Faced with a shortage of members, the building-trades unions of California have begun recruiting for apprenticeship programs in communities of color where many young men have criminal pasts. 

With its new program, the building trades unions in California are redefining the word "gang".  Over the last decade, the construction boom has resulted in a large number of good-paying jobs and those jobs are being filled by a large and growing number of Southern California's former gang members.  Whereas union jobs were once reserved for those with family connections, now former gang members are recruiting other gang members out of a life of crime.  As one apprentice said, "this is our gang now, in a positive way, though."  For individuals with a prison record, the building trades were one of the only places that accepted them.

Prison Training Programs: Such union-based programs can be especially effective in conjunction with prison rehabilitation programs like the Illinois Building Homes: Rebuilding Lives program, where that state's Department of Corrections has created classes to train prisoners in the construction trades, giving them an opportunity to build homes for low-income families in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.   Michigan and Minnesota have similar programs working with Habitat for Humanity.  Minnesota in particular has a well-developed relationship between the State Department of Corrections and the local building trades unions, who provide journeyman foreman crew leaders to supervise and train offenders on these building projects.  Such programs provide prisoners training that will help them in seeking jobs in the private sector upon reentry after their sentences are finished. 

Funding Pre-Apprenticeship Training: States and local governments can fund programs to help provide ex-prisoners with any missing skills needed to qualify for union apprenticeship programs.  For example, Washington D.C. enacted legislation that requires employers receiving contract awards from the District to establish apprenticeship programs for community members.  To ensure that District residents gained the educational foundation and workplace skills needed to qualify for the apprenticeships, the District negotiated special pre-apprenticeship programs with five local unions, a program that benefits a range of ex-prisoners and at-risk youth in those communities.

Integrating prisoner training into union apprenticeship and recruitment strategies is a documented strategy for reducing recidivism and decreasing gang activity by giving ex-offenders the opportunity of decent paying jobs with benefits.  


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