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The power of second chances

Friday, May 19, 2023

By Brent Haken

The Power of Second Chances

When it comes to career training, Oklahoma CareerTech has many objectives. Giving people a second chance at life is among them.

Oklahoma CareerTech has been helping inmates find their purpose since 1971, when Oklahoma opened the first inmate training facility in the United States offering vocational-technical training by a state CareerTech system.

Since then, Oklahoma CareerTech’s Skills Centers Division has grown to encompass multiple programs in correctional facilities statewide, including juvenile facilities. This statewide school system is dedicated to equipping inmates with the skills necessary to obtain employment upon release.

The likelihood of an inmate being reincarcerated after release is much greater if we don’t prepare them for life on the outside. It’s a model that works.

The Skills Centers model worked for William Powell. Powell had lost everything and was serving a 10-year prison sentence. His life was completely void of any source of pride, he said.

Then he learned about CareerTech’s Skills Centers program. Powell said the one-on-one guidance he received from one of our licensed trades instructors transformed his life. Powell completed his GED while he was incarcerated and later became a certified unlimited electrical journeyman and contractor.

Now, William owns his own company, Powell Electric, in Ponca City.

“I have money in the bank, I own a home and vehicles, and I am a pillar in my community,” Powell said.

Oklahoma CareerTech’s Skills Centers offer inmate training at 17 sites around the state. Some of those sites have been added since CareerTech received a $900,000 federal grant in December 2021, including Northeast Oklahoma Correctional Center in Vinita. CareerTech recently added three instructors at that site to teach welding; transportation, distribution and logistics; and career readiness programs.

CareerTech has also added a career readiness program at J.H. Lilley Correctional Center in Boley and two new programs at James Crabtree Correctional Center in Helena. Inmates in Helena may be eligible to apply for career readiness and automotive repair programs.

Although it’s not a new site, McAlester Skills Center in McAlester will soon offer a new career readiness program.

Our Skills Centers programs are developed in tandem with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. DOC understands the value of training its inmates, and it continues to work with CareerTech to identify more potential training sites around the state.

Along with offering valuable job skills and life skills training, CareerTech also employs transition coordinators who help inmates find housing, clothing and other essential items they will need when they are released.

CareerTech’s Skills Centers system focuses on helping offenders transition back to their communities and into the workplace by teaching the employability and technical skills they need to make a positive transition.

Offenders who find employment are less likely to return to crime. In fiscal 2022, enrollment in CareerTech Skills Centers totaled 1,045. More than 95% of the completers were positively placed in employment with an average hourly wage of $14.65.

Offenders are trained in several industry clusters, including manufacturing; transportation, distribution and logistics; construction; and business management and administration. Skills Centers staff members work closely with Oklahoma workforce boards, local agencies and faith- and community-based organizations to secure employment for graduates upon their release to local communities.

The state’s Skills Centers offer educational programs designed to keep the prison gate from becoming a revolving door and give hope to students transitioning back into our communities.

If you would like to learn more about Oklahoma CareerTech, visit our website at

Brent Haken is the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Last Modified on Jul 05, 2023
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