Twenty-five female inmates beam with pride as they entered the auditorium to a thunderous round of applause from prison leaders, staff, family members, and fellow inmates. On this December afternoon, these women are looked at, not as inmates inside the California Institution for Women (CIW), but graduates who are bettering themselves for their future.
Scott Kernan, CDCR Secretary and Chair of the Prison Industry Board, delivered the keynote address and emphasized the importance of programming and successful rehabilitation. “I wish the public could see the faces of the offenders and the staff as they celebrate this achievement. This is what rehabilitation is all about.”
The women are being recognized after participating in the California Prison Industry Authority’s (CALPIA’s) Pre-Apprentice Carpentry, Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor or Healthcare Facilities Maintenance programs. One-by-one, they are called to the stage accepting their industry-accredited certifications and a pink hard hat, the audience cheering for every woman as loudly as the last.
The encouraging atmosphere resonated with acting Warden Dawn Davison, who came out of retirement in August 2016, to help smooth a transitional period for the institution. A former Warden at CIW, Davison was hugely popular among staff and inmates for seven years due to the reforms she put in place before retiring in 2009.
Davison praised the graduates and talked about their futures. “You ladies made a choice to do the right thing. You came to work every day. And that took a lot of fortitude.”
Davison was also joined on stage by Chief Deputy Warden Molly Hill who on Jan. 1, 2017, accepted CIW’s acting Warden position. Davison and Hill congratulated the women while passing out the certificates with Secretary Kernan.
“It was challenging and to know that we can do it is a beautiful thing.”
The Pre-Apprentice Carpentry and Pre-Apprentice Construction Labor graduates are part of CALPIA’s Career Technical Education programs which have some of lowest recidivism rates in the country, with a cumulative rate of 7.13%.
What is unique about these programs is CALPIA partners with the trade unions and released offenders are eligible for placement in full-scale apprenticeship programs. CALPIA provides those graduates with a full set of tools and pays their first year of union dues. Offenders in the Healthcare Facilities Maintenance program train for 3-6 months and are eligible to take state employment exams upon parole to apply for state jobs such as maintenance technicians.
CALPIA also invited representatives from their respective trade unions to network with the newly certified trainees after the ceremony.
Lissette Cruz, representing the Carpenter’s Training Center in Whittier, said she is waiting for the prospective apprentices with open arms. “The will of the spirit to overcome — that’s something wonderful to witness.”
Dawn Osborne, a Pre-Apprentice Carpentry graduate, has twenty-two days left to go on her sentence and is excited about her future and transformation. “I had no clue that I would even be interested in something like this. I came from a home that was very broken. I dropped out of school. Coming to prison I’ve done a lot of productive things with my time. I’ve accomplished my GED and I’ve been drug-free. It was challenging and to know that we can do it is a beautiful thing.”
More information about CalPIA can be found at www.calpia.ca.gov.