WCCW: Job training program helps change the mindsets of women in this Washington state prison.
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Beating Recidivism: Washington Prison Trains Women for Jobs in Construction

Inmates at Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Gig Harbor are part of more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S. Unfortunately, many people who leave have the problems of facing more time.

They find living outside the walls  hard. Recidivism is a major problem keeping them coming back over and over again. Many people who leave prisons have problems staying out.

This WA state prison is fighting that through job training for women inmates in a “man’s” field.

WCCW aims to give inmates a better chance at life outside the walls. A program called Trades Related Apprentice Coaching (TRAC ) is run inside the Washington women’s prison.

It’s a partnership between the correctional facility and unions representing the construction trades:

  • Carpenters
  • Ironworkers
  • Laborers
  • Cement Masons Union

Steve Petermann, a retired carpenter, has managed the program for nearly six years. The inside one of the buildings looks like a prep site for a construction project. Behind those walls are cinder blocks, wheelbarrows and large standing wood frames.

WCCW: Job training program helps change the mindsets of women in this Washington state prison.
WCCW: Job training program helps change the mindsets of women in this Washington state prison. Image Source: NPR

Washington Women’s Prison Teaching Job Skills for Life After Prison

Petermann believes that this Washington women’s prison job training program allows women to learn skills that lead to careers after their releases. Doing well in the program gives these women direct entry into a living wage job on the outside.

The WCCW prison job program also pays union dues and rent for those starting out. This is important because many of the women are single parents and need boosts to get on their feet when they get out.

Crystal Lansdale is a mother of four children. The 35-year-old woman inmate was previously addicted to Methamphetamine. She has made up her mind that she refused to make the same mistakes that led her inside the prison walls.

To her, construction is a way out the box of reoffending. Her new job also gives her retirement and benefits, improving her chances of beating recidivism.

How Much Work Do the WCCW Ladies Put In?

The method is simple, the women have to do so many nails in so many minutes. They have to pound them down, on the side and overhead. This is done over and over until projects are complete.

To get into the program, participants have to:

  1. Be in good health
  2. Go through a screening process
  3. Successfully complete an interview

For 16 weeks, women at this Washington state prison spend up to six hours a day learning about tools and building techniques. They have homework and physical work that requires plenty of stamina.

Women vs Men: Inequality in Job Training Programs in US Prisons

WCCW Prison Women Get Jobs & Workouts

Many women in the prison job program say it gives them a good workout. They move 3- lb cinder blocks back and forth within 11 minutes.

There are several opportunities within the construction field these days. Desiree Jensen, a 31-year old mother of two, is learning to become a millwright. This is a high precision craftsperson that works with machinery.

Jensen, convicted of assault, wants this because she doesn’t want to come back to prison. Her learning the craft of millwrighting in prison gives her a chance to do something different when she’s released.

TRAC gives each participant a chance to get out of prison and make more than minimum wage. Each is gaining respect from family members and learning a different mindset.

This will make it easier to stay away from bad influences and situations that could land them back in prisons.

Construction May Change the Lives of Wome

Lisa Marx, an outreach worker for Northwest Carpenters Institute, talked to the inmates at TRAC. She has worked on buildings and torn down scaffolding for oil rigs in Washington state.

She is a mentor for many women who work in the construction trade.

The carpentry union offers eight different apprenticeships. She’s honest and upfront about the outright sexism they will face as women in a man-dominated field.

Marx also lets the ladies know that there is a wide-open market with more women being accepted on these types of job sites.

Ex-Cons Get Jobs as Paid Assistants After Graduation

TRAC graduates are the ones on the training floor with red hardhats. They are paid to work as assistants and help run the prison construction classes.

Chantal Trotter wants to become an ironworker. Done with the street life, she says is more confident and respectful of DOC, law enforcement and state officials. And, she is just one of many.

About 120 women inmates have graduated from the prison job program in the last six years. The recidivism rate for women in TRAC is about 3-5%, with most returning for technical parole violations.

On the wall inside the confines of the program, there are names of students. There are asterisks by the ones who have become apprentices and journeywoman after being released from the women’s prison. 

Petermann says not everyone who starts makes it all the way through to graduation. Washington State has expanded TRAC to the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women in Belfair as well. 

This doubles the size of the pre-apprentice program and gives more Washington state women inmates chances to get jobs and start their lives over on the outside.

Giving these women the skills and job experience they need to succeed after prison life is a key to breaking the cycle of recidivism for these ladies.

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How to Find Jobs on the Outside with a Felony Record

Is your loved one an inmate in a prison job training program? Are they worried about finding a job after getting out because of issues related to being an ex-con or on parole?

Thanks to Ban the Box, finding a job with a felony record can be a bit less stressful. Not only does this give felons better chances of making it to the job interview phases, it allows them to shine before the employer asks about their records.

The Felon’s 2019 Guide to Finding a Job & Becoming an Entrepreneur

Learn more about Ban the Box, as well as tips and tools to use during job hunting. This guide for felons looking for jobs also includes resources for establishing credit and launching a new business after getting out of prison. 

The Felon’s 2019 Guide is not just a simply brochure to take up your time. It provides well over 100 companies and agencies that actually hire people with felonies. This is the perfect gift to send someone you love in prison.

Tiffany M Arnold
As a little girl Tiffany M Arnold displayed a creative spirit. She truly believes writing is her form of art to foster conversations that positively impact the world. Tiffany loves to express herself through stories that make you think beyond the pages, beyond the book and within yourself. She hopes, in every story there is a message for someone. Ms. Arnold currently reports prison news for PRN online.