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Reducing Prison Populations One Good Job at a Time

Tristain Frye’s success in life is important not just to her – it’s important to all of us.

Frye, who recently worked on a new building at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA, did not have an easy road to becoming a carpenter’s apprentice.

When she was 22, she was sentenced to 12 years in state prison. At that point, the odds were solidly against her.

That is until Tristain was accepted into an innovative pre-apprenticeship program in partnership with the Ironworkers, Laborers and Carpenters unions called TRAC: Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching at the Washington Corrections Center for Women.  Read about her on the AFL-CIO blog, Jobs, Not Prisons: Unions Help Formerly Incarcerated Women Build a New Life.

The 16 week program is open to women in the prison who can prove themselves physically able to do the demanding work required in the construction industry: carry heavy loads of rebar, build and scale scaffolding, and more.

Women like Tristain get the opportunity to learn building and construction trade skills, giving them a chance at a career as a construction worker with good wages and benefits once they are released.

TRAC is taught by a retired journeyman named Steve Petermann who said that labor’s support has been huge for the program.  Construction trades unions are working harder than ever to ensure more women join their ranks and TRAC graduates have proven themselves to be hardworking, dependable apprentices.  The program has helped women leave prison and build stable, sustainable lives for them and their families.

The TRAC program is just one way the labor movement is stepping up to address the need for criminal justice reform and reduce prison populations in the U.S.  It should serve as a model for other prisons across the country.  We’re looking for other examples of “what works” to give people in prison the tools to succeed upon release.