Skills Training Helps Nonviolent Offenders In Oklahoma Find Success
OKLAHOMA CITY - Earlier this month Oklahoma voters approved State Question 781, which will fund rehabilitation as an alternative to prison, but that is not just for mental health and substance abuse programs.
A carpentry course at Francis Tuttle’s Melrose Program shows another type of rehab that falls under 781’s scope. The Department of Corrections only works with two programs like this in the state. The other course teaches welding in Enid.
After learning skills that they can turn into a career, 94% of the carpentry students who graduate do not reoffend.
The free five-month program at Francis Tuttle is just one alternative to prison for a select 24 students at a time. They learn to read and execute blueprints while earning a GED, managing finances and practicing mock interviews. The students also hear lectures from leaders like Pastor Tré Clark, who served five years in prison for armed robbery.
Clark recalls his struggles looking for work after his release. He says,” We expect these guys to come out of prison and be productive members of society, and we don’t want to open the door to give them an opportunity.”
Right now, though, the Francis Tuttle program is over capacity with 30 students. Barrett Richardson works for the Oklahoma Department of Careers and Technology to identify eligible participants. “It’s my job to make sure we get the ones that can succeed in here,” he says, “and unfortunately I have to tell some guys that I think could make it ‘no’ right now because we don’t have space.”
The DOC tells News 9 that overpopulation in Oklahoma prisons has caused traditional work spaces to be transformed into additional sleeping areas. Richardson admits a majority of inmates are behind bars for nonviolent minor drug offenses, but funding for additional community programs through State Question 781 will not kick in until July 2018.
Sa'Ron Johnson, a current student, says he is grateful for the second chance to provide a better future for his three children. “It’s something I can teach them,” he says, “so that way when they grow up it’ll help keep them out of trouble, keep them focused on the right track.”
As a testament to the proven success of this program, 86% of graduates leave with both employment and housing. “They’re doing great,” says instructor Brett Chase. “They’re taking care of their kids. They’ll come by and show me their new car they bought, so yeah, it works.”
Francis Tuttle is about to start selling the class’s finished products for a fraction of retail costs. For example, Adirondack chairs built in the shop will sell for $80. The revenue will help further fund the program and help students get their driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
If you are interested in purchasing any of the students’ work, contact instructor Brett Chase at email@example.com.