Hammer and jail: Sacramento County program offers construction training to the formerly incarcerated

More than a quarter of probation participants scored jobs last year

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the January 26, 2017, issue.

From the jailhouse to building a house—that’s the goal of a partnership now entering its fourth year between the Sacramento County Probation Department and Northern California Construction Training Inc.

Since its December 2013 inception, the nine-month program has trained probationers in various construction trades and placed them in apprenticeship-training programs that are the first step to becoming unionized labor. The program also helps probationers obtain high-school equivalency diplomas through the Sacramento County Office of Education.

The collaboration was pitched as a way to reintegrate probationers age 17 and up into the workforce post-incarceration. The NCCT, which also trains non-probationers for trade work, contracts with the Probation Department specifically for this purpose. According to Assistant Chief Deputy Probation Officer Dave Semon, the program has been largely successful, securing 85 job placements for probation clients, and 44 high school equivalency diplomas since it began just over three years ago.

In 2016, 41 of the 152 probationers enrolled in the program found work, and 15 obtained their GEDs. Ninety-six earned certification in welding, forklift operation and other construction trades.

While job placement hovered around 27 percent last year, Semon said some trainees find work before graduating each June. “Oftentimes, students will get picked out of class before they even graduate depending on the job market trends,” Semon said. “Labor unions will come and identify that they need laborers or welders or electricians, whatever the trade happens to be.”

Semon said the department works to supplement the discipline and commitment probationers need to be successful by providing transportation and access to jobs sites.

“I think [the program’s strength is] the ability to provide an opportunity for these clients to learn a trade, earn gainful employment, and not have potential employers pass judgment on them just based on their history,” Semon said. “It gives them a clean slate. If they’re willing to work hard, and remain clean and committed, and do our program, then they will be successful. But it does take effort on their behalf.”