‘Everybody deserves an opportunity’: Job center opens inside state prison

‘Everybody deserves an opportunity’: Job center opens inside state prison

A state prison is providing inmates a new way to get a head start on transitioning back into society after release, which state officials say can help the economy, as well.

The Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon is the first state facility to have an in-house job center.

That’s where on Monday you could find inmate Kenneth Shong, who has 49 days until he’s released.

“Not like I’m counting,” Shong said. “I’m still a little nervous because I have to face the fact that I screwed up and live that part.”

He said he’s served 19 months so far for tax evasion and state misrepresentation, with court records showing past convictions, including forgery.

Beyond crossing off the months and days, he’s focused on what he’s looking forward to once his time in Oakhill Correctional Institution is up.

“Oddly enough, getting to work,” Shong said.

That’s what the new job center is geared toward, allowing current inmates to make resumes, connect with employers and set up job interviews for when they’re out.

“We have a vision for them, and we have confidence for them,” Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch said during her remarks at the center’s opening celebration Monday, which included the Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Corrections

Kleefisch said when it comes to the numbers, the center adds up, and can benefit both prisoners and businesses.

“In a 3 percent economic world, you’ve got to really look outside the box and you’ve got to have an open mind with your human resources strategy,” she said. “In many cases a lot of folks here at Oakhill and across our Corrections Department make really good potential employees.”

Kleefisch said housing one inmate in the Department of Corrections costs taxpayers about $32,000 a year, but making sure they have jobs lined up can keep inmates from reoffending and turn them into taxpayers themselves.

She and other officials said another number is important — the second chance.

“Everybody deserves an opportunity and a chance, and that’s what this is about,” DWD Secretary Ray Allen said. “We won’t give up on them, and we don’t want them to give up on themselves.”

Having job possibilities lined up before release can give inmates like Shong something to count on.

“To make sure I have gainful employment, that’s the key,” Shong said.

State officials said the hope is to expand on this program, potentially bringing the center to other state prisons.

Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.