By Rep. RICK WEST
Growing up, I knew a lot of kids who were not sure what they wanted to do after they graduated high school. Some considered a four-year college but couldn’t stomach the cost or time commitment.
Others mulled over community college but weren’t sure what they wanted to study. And some folks knew exactly what they wanted for their future. For a lot of those folks who wanted to learn a specific trade, career tech centers were the perfect option then – and they are still a perfect option today.
Kiamichi Technology Center has multiple locations in our part of the state and dozens of programs for interested students. This trade-oriented education is irreplaceable in today’s market. Students can learn everything from welding to culinary arts, and the skills they gain lead graduates to finding jobs quickly after finishing school.
Many grads stay in LeFlore County to work. They pay taxes, invest in their neighborhoods and grow their own businesses. Kiamichi’s slogan is “Motivate, educate, elevate,” and that’s exactly what the staff at Kiamichi does. It’s an invaluable resource to our community.
Learning a trade can be a turning point for anyone, but these specialized skills are instrumental for our state’s incarcerated population. Fortunately, the Jim E. Hamilton Correctional Center in Hodgen offers an expansive vocational training program through something called a CareerTech Skills Center. Inmates have the ability to choose from seven different skills, including things like air conditioning and refrigeration to transmission repair.
The skills centers across the state have been part of the Department of Corrections for more than 45 years now. The program started right here at the Jim Hamilton Correctional Center, and it has expanded hand over foot. Education and skill training play crucial roles in achieving success after incarceration, and these programs offer inmates an opportunity to make positive changes in their lives.
Even still, there are plenty of obstacles for inmates leaving prison. These folks have court fines to repay, housing to track down and transportation to arrange. Men and women who are able to obtain a vocational training education are often one step ahead after being discharged, but it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear.
I believe there’s more we can do to help these individuals. Oklahoma has the second highest incarceration rate in the country, and more than half of the state’s inmates are doing time for nonviolent offenses.
For men and women who are in prison for driving under the influence, it can cost thousands of dollars to regain a driver’s license. I strongly believe there are penalties to pay for breaking the law, but the current penalties can be unachievable for people who are trying desperately to get back on track.
Maybe we could look at provisional licenses for ex-inmates with jobs. Maybe we could lessen the fees required to reinstate a license. No matter what, we have got to do something to make sure the training these inmates receive doesn’t go to waste because someone cannot get to work.
As always, I’m here if you need me. Our special legislative session begins Sept. 25, and I’ll update you on that in my next article. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out by calling 405-557-7413 or emailing [email protected]. Thanks and God bless.
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