MYNORTHWEST NEWS

King County awarded with $6M grant to help ex-cons re-enter workforce

Oct 7, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: 8:13 pm

king county grant...

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Former convicts booked in King County will now receive a new federal grant aiming to help connect them with re-entry and employment services, according to the Washington State Employment Security Department (WSESD).

The WSESD and the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County are set to receive more than $6.2 million from a four-year federal grant called Partners for Reentry Opportunities in Workforce Development (PROWD). The Washington State Employment Security Department described the partnership as a “first-of-its-kind” agreement.

More on ex-cons finding work: Dire US labor shortage provides opportunity for ex-prisoners

“The magic in this grant is that it will bring these systems together to help improve outcomes for justice-impacted individuals,” Employment Security Department Commissioner Cami Feek said in a prepared statement. “Ensuring access to workforce training for Washingtonians who are reintegrating into their communities from federal corrections custody remains a priority for our agency.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration division announced it would award more than $63 million to workforce agencies in 11 states, with Washington included.

The grant originated from a partnership between the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The grant will provide resources for those living in residential re-entry centers, also known as transitional housing, to expand their access to more reentry services. Additionally, the grant will add more staffing to Washington’s workforce for re-entry services.

This grant “aligns with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s Executive Order 1605, “Building Safe and Strong Communities Through Successful Reentry” and Employment Security Department’s mission statement and core values,” the WSESD wrote.

With issues of overcrowding, poor medical care and inadequate staffing in jails within King County, state representatives want to stress programs aimed towards societal re-entry to keep former offenders from being repeat offenders.

More on King County jails: ACLU suing King County for unhealthy conditions at county jail

In addition to the county offering services for ex-convicts through the King County Diversion and Reentry Services, Washington also provides the Offender Reentry Community Safety Program (ORCSP) and Forensic Integrated Reentry Support and Treatment (FIRST).

How ex-convicts who fought fires in jail can become firefighters

With Washington coming out of a fire season that the second-highest number in state history, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) continues to push its Camps Program, which aims to protect state parks from forest fires with the help of incarcerated individuals.

The program is a joint effort with the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF).

“There are four adult minimum custody facilities and one reentry center currently supporting DNR programs,” Tobby Hatley, media relations manager at the Washington State Department of Corrections, told MyNorthwest earlier this year. “Incarcerated individuals are paid $1.50 an hour for non-firefighting/emergency work and receive minimum wage for work hours related to firefighting and emergency engagements.”

In Washington, a total of 165,365 acres were burned in Washington in 2023, according to Angie Lane, a wildland fire management division employee within DNR. The 10-year annual average for acres burned is 472,881.

More on Washington fire season: Sen. Cantwell claims state will be ‘epicenter of severe wildfires’ in summer

Those currently in jail can work a myriad of jobs through this program, including land rehab, fire fighting — both initial attack and grid search for potential fire activity and suppression — silviculture, pre-commercial thinning, road maintenance, increasing fish access in streams, noxious weed control, controlled burning and litter clean-up.

“All incarcerated individuals who are eligible to work for DNR are screened for risk and health status prior to the program assignment,” Hatley continued. “Policy guidelines are also in place that consider an individual’s criminal history, prison behavior, aptitude and overall physical and mental health. Once hired by DNR, they receive in-depth training ranging from safety aspects of firefighting to operating equipment which meets the National Wild Fire Coordinating Group standards and is nationally certified.”

DNR then extends the opportunity for those who fought fires while serving a criminal sentence to turn that experience into a career.

“Continue the training you’ve received in camp, provide you with personal protective equipment and tools for firefighting and daily forestry, and hire you as a full-time employee of the Washington State DNR,” DNR’s recruitment poster read.

The job has overtime benefits, while all hours worked under the Incident Command System receive an increase of $2 to the employee’s regular hourly rate of pay. The job is also eligible for health and dental coverage.

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