California inmates honored at apprenticeship graduation ceremony

Plenty of hugs and congratulations, like in so many other graduations during this season, except that these graduates are inmates at the California State Prison in Lancaster, serving real time for serious crimes.

Thirty of them were recognized for completing programs through the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) in partnership with the California Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The industry-accredited certification qualifies incarcerated individuals for employment when returning to their communities, in jobs that go from health-care facility maintenance to running commercial laundry facilities.

"It’s huge," said graduate Percy Sisniega.

Sisniega said having work makes a big difference when those serving time, like him, complete their sentences. Indeed, a study commissioned by UCI indicates that CALPIA has a 15% return to custody, which means that 85% of participants did not return to prison within three years after finishing their sentences.

That’s critical because the graduations come at a time of scrutiny on the prison inmate labor programs. In 2021, state auditors found repeated violations of state laws dealing with spending and hiring practices.

"These are real results," says Kyle Patterson.

Patterson became a carpenter while serving time and has just been picked by Governor Gavin Newsom to be a Board Member for the Prison Industry, which offers certifications in over a hundred fields and helps about 6,500 inmates a year. 

He is also a special rep for the Southwest Mountain States Regional Council of Carpenters.

"The opportunity is there," he told the graduates. "You just have to take advantage of it, stick with it, and your life will be better for you and your communities."