CDCR Job Opportunities for the Population In‑Prison and Beyond
CDCR’s goal is for every incarcerated person to take advantage of positive programming and rehabilitative opportunities such as education, self-help, vocational and other programs.
Incarcerated people receive credits off of their prison terms for work assignments, as well as rehabilitation, education and self-help programs.
Part of a person’s rehabilitation includes work assignments, which teach valuable skills for finding jobs after prison. Incarcerated people can learn construction, dog training, computer coding, and working in hospice care, among other jobs.
Every job is dignified, and CDCR strives to provide job opportunities and training similar to those outside of prison.
Work assignments take into account the incarcerated person’s needs and wants, eligibility and availability of desired work or program activity, an institution’s security and operational needs, and the individual’s overall health and safety.
Neither CDCR nor CALPIA profit from private industries, and participants can earn $.08 per hour up to $20.44 per, depending on the assignment and required skill level. Participants are able to advance as they successfully complete programs, and as more skilled, higher-paying institution jobs open up.
CDCR’s mission is the successful reintegration of those in our care back to our communities equipped with the tools to be drug-free, healthy, and employable members of society. We focus on providing education, treatment, rehabilitative, and restorative justice opportunities, all in a safe and humane environment.
This mission has been supported by the California Legislature, the federal Three-Judge Court, and California voters who in recent years have enacted enhanced credit-earning opportunities for incarcerated people who participate in work, educational and other rehabilitation programs.
Job Opportunities for Currently Incarcerated
Job assignment criteria
Assignment of paid jobs are based on the following criteria:
- Skill level evidenced by the person’s technical expertise, ability, and knowledge.
- Behavior and relationships with others evidenced by the person’s ability to deal with staff and other authority figures, work/training supervisors, and other persons
- Attitude and adaptability evidenced by the person’s willingness to learn and to take direction.
- Work/training habits evidenced by the person’s punctuality, dependability, care of equipment, and safety practices.
- Formal education and training evidenced by the person’s preparation for the assignment and ability to read, write, and speak effectively.
- Mission and layout of the institution/facility.
- Ethnic balance. Ethnic balance is achieved by having the facility’s various ethnicities in the population proportionately represented in the number of paid assignments at the facility.
California Code of Regulations Title 15 details pay for job assignments in CDCR prisons.
Pay rates at each facility for incarcerated job assignments align with the U.S. Department of Labor Dictionary of Occupational Titles based on the level of skill and productivity required. These range from eight cents an hour for unskilled labor, up to $.30 an hour for assignments requiring skilled labor—which also require an application process to obtain.
Quarterly pay raises and general upward job mobility – the rate at which employees advance into new roles, additional opportunities, and better compensation – are also available based on a person’s overall performance.
Job Training and Employment Pathways for Currently Incarcerated
Offender Mentor Certification Program
Within California prisons, the Offender Mentor Certification Program (OMCP) is one of the most rigorous and competitive rehabilitation programs offered to incarcerated people. Once completed, graduates are assigned to other institutions to lead valuable self-help programs. Upon release, they are able to use their new skills to find good-paying jobs as certified drug and alcohol counselors. Graduates have gone on to manage substance abuse programs and other non-profits, get master’s degrees and work in community-based assistance programs.
- John Badgett found the OMCP was his pathway to release after 30-plus years of incarceration. In a podcast episode of “CDCR Unlocked,” Badgett looks back on the journey he took to become a certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselor. Badgett credits his family, rehabilitative programs, and his fellow Offender Mentor Certification Program mentors for helping him learn how much good he has to offer in the world.
- Formerly incarcerated graduates of the program have been hired by nonprofit Amity Foundation as facilitators for the Seeking Safety program at Valley State Prison. The OMCP graduates helped a group of people incarcerated in state prison as young adults address trauma, combat substance abuse use disorder and focus on making positive decisions.
- At Central California Women’s Facility OMCP graduates still incarcerated serve as facilitators for the Youth Diversion Program.
Career Technical Education
There are 20 Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, providing valuable hands-on training in sectors that include building and construction, energy and utilities, business and finance, information and communication technologies, fashion and interior design, manufacturing and product development, and transportation. At the end of course, participants earn industry-recognized certification and an employment pathway to both a career and a livable wage.
Career training options are evaluated annually based on the number of employment opportunities available annually in the trade. Many programs include green employment skills relevant to solar, geothermal and smart energy management practices. More information is available here: https://www.cdcr.ca.gov/rehabilitation/cte/
Before he was incarcerated, Joseph Stickler said he lived on the streets and had no job except for selling drugs. His struggles continued after he was incarcerated, leading to additional time added to his sentence. He said his motivation to change his life occurred when he began taking college and Career and Technical Education courses in prison. The Office Services class helped him gain important computer skills and the Building Maintenance program taught him discipline and how to safely use power tools. Upon release he got a union job with Union Ironworkers Local 378 in the Bay Area. He now has a well-paying job doing ironwork on high rise buildings. See him here: https://youtu.be/UaVETzRst2c.
California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA)
The California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA) is a self-supporting, customer-focused business that reduces recidivism, increases prison safety, and enhances public safety by providing incarcerated individuals productive work and training opportunities. CALPIA’s Vision: Changing incarcerated individuals’ lives through innovative job training for a safer California.
CALPIA participants earn milestone credits in every CALPIA program, which helps them earn time off their sentence. Incarcerated individuals receive day-for-day credit for participation in a CALPIA assignment. An incarcerated individual can earn 12 weeks of milestone completion credits (MCC) per MCC calendar year. Any MCCs earned above 12 weeks, are applied to the incarcerated individual’s next MCC calendar year.
Through CALPIA’s Joint Venture Program, incarcerated individuals are paid industry comparable wages, with employers required to pay minimum wage or higher ($12/hr). More details on this program: Workers’ Wages – JVP (ca.gov)
Career Technical Education and PIA industry wages are available in Title 15—Division 8 policies here. Wages are determined by the General Manager and reviewed by the Prison Industry Board and are paid from the Prison Industry Revolving Fund. Pay rates are from .35 – $1.00 and align with comparable industry-standard wages based on skill level required.
Additional background information:
CALPIA incarcerated work/training and education program policies are in Title 15—Division 8 located here.
CALPIA does not discriminate on the basis of disability in employment or in the admission and access to its program or activities, including those with physical or developmental disabilities, or patients in CDCR’s Mental Health Services Delivery System, and who otherwise meet the hiring requirements. CALPIA affords reasonable accommodation to access programs as required by the American with Disabilities Act, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and applicable related non-discrimination laws.
The goods and services provided by CALPIA’s enterprises are sold to government departments and entities, not the private sector.
Here is an overview video about CALPIA:
Here are just a few links to recent graduates with careers thanks to CALPIA’s job training programs.
CALPIA Joint Venture Program
As part of the Joint Venture Program (JVP), businesses run their operations inside four CDCR institutions. Incarcerated people in the program are trained with marketable job skills and paid industry-comparable wages. Participants in the program can be trained in fields like software coding, electronics reclamation, and farming.
One business, Joint Venture Electronics, operates a cable wire harness manufacturing unit inside Central California Women’s Facility. Those workers are paid $15.50 per hour.
Twenty percent of JVP employees’ wages are set aside to pay for their restitution or paid directly to local crime victims’ programs. Read one success story here:
JVP prioritizes projects that retain or reclaim jobs in California, support emerging California industries or create jobs for deficient labor market. Financial benefits for business include reducing worker’s compensation insurance rates, state tax credits, no employment benefits, and no-cost lease.
- Joint Venture Program: Financial Advantages – Joint Venture Program (ca.gov)
To participate, businesses must submit a business plan with a description of each open position and its minimum qualifications. The business must also enter a standard five-year agreement and lease with CDCR and the Department of General Services (DGS).
Conservation (Fire) Camps
All incarcerated firefighters receive the same training that CAL FIRE’s seasonal firefighters receive, which includes a week of classroom instruction and a second week of field exercises.
Those with eight years or less remaining on their sentence, and who meet eligibility criteria, may volunteer for the program. Incarcerated people do not face disciplinary action if they choose not to serve their time in a fire camp. After someone volunteers to serve their sentence in a fire camp, they must also be cleared by CDCR medical staff as physically fit for vigorous activity.
Volunteers are screened on a case-by-case basis and must have “minimum custody” status, or the lowest classification f based on their sustained good behavior in prison, their conforming to rules within the prison and participation in rehabilitative programming.
Some convictions automatically make someone ineligible for conservation camp assignment, even if they have minimum-custody status, including:
- Escape history
- Sex offenses
- Other disqualifiers:
- Medical issues
- Active warrants
- High-notoriety cases
- More than five years left to serve of sentence
In an active fire, CAL FIRE makes the determination where all crews will be deployed based on the conditions and the safety and security of all firefighters. Incarcerated firefighters are not treated differently in the work they perform.
Most incarcerated firefighters receive 30 days of credits for each 30 days served as a firefighter. Those serving their sentences in fire camps (support staff) who are not firefighters receive day-for-day credits – or one day off their sentence for every one day they serve in a fire camp.
Depending on skill level, conservation camp incarcerated firefighters earn between $2.90 and $5.12 per day, paid by CDCR.
While assigned to an active emergency, incarcerated firefighters earn an additional $1 per hour, regardless of skill level. During emergencies, crews work a 24-hour shift followed by 24 hours of rest. For example, one 24-hour shift during an active emergency, the lowest skill level would earn $26.90 per day. They are paid this rate during rest periods as well.
California State Agency Hires of Formerly Incarcerated People
State agencies often partner with CDCR to provide incarcerated people who are preparing for release access to civil service positions. CALPIA’s Transition to Employment Program assists with creating a CalJOBS account, outlining a CALPIA Work History Report and a resume, and obtaining personal identification like a birth certificate, state ID or social security card. Civil service exams and hiring fairs provide an opportunity for skilled workers to ask questions and network with potential employers. Dozens of incarcerated people have received conditional offers of employment for entry-level positions before their release.
Workshops are led by representatives from:
- California Government Operations Agency
- California Department of Human Resources (CALHR)
- California Workforce Development Board
- California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA)
In two hiring fairs held at California State Prison, Solano since 2019, a total of 73 incarcerated individuals took the entry-level Highway Maintenance Worker or Landscape Maintenance Worker exam, with 72 successfully passing one or both exams. Since the first workshop and hiring event, 33 incarcerated applicants received conditional job offers from Caltrans on the spot. Of those, at least five have reported to CDCR they are still employed with Caltrans. That number is likely much higher as no one is required to report their employment status to CDCR after release.
Inside CDCR: Hiring event proves successful at CSP‑Solano
Agencies like Caltrans often look to CALPIA for skilled workers. Maynard Walker was incarcerated at the California Institution for Men for several years and was released in 2016. While incarcerated, Walker took part in CALPIA’s Commercial Dive Program where he learned commercial diving, underwater welding, physics, physiology, blueprint reading, among other valuable job skills. He has since earned an Engineering degree and is now the Lead Highway Maintenance Worker for Caltrans in Costa Mesa.
Success story (video):
Opportunities for formerly incarcerated firefighters
Ventura Training Center
In effort to expand employment opportunities for incarcerated persons paroling from fire camps, CDCR, CAL FIRE and the California Conservation Corps, in partnership with the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, partnered to implement a Firefighter Training and Certification Program in Ventura County in October 2018. The Ventura Training Center (VTC) is an 18-month program that provides advanced firefighter training to eligible former offenders on parole who have recently been part of a trained firefighting workforce housed in fire camps or institutional firehouses operated by CAL FIRE and CDCR. Members of the California Conservation Corps are also eligible to participate.
Participants in the certification program are provided with additional rehabilitation and job training skills to help them be more successful after completion of the program. Cadets who complete the program are also qualified to apply for entry-level firefighting jobs with local, state, and federal firefighting agencies.
Many former incarcerated firefighters from the state’s Conservation Camp Program go on to gain employment with CAL FIRE, the United States Forest Service and interagency hotshot crews, which do not require EMT certifications. CAL FIRE does not require EMT certification to be employed as a firefighter with their department, nor do federal firefighting crews or private municipal fire departments.
- Hayden Weiner graduated from the VTC in January 2022. He is currently a firefighter in CAL FIRE’s Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit, working hard toward a goal of becoming a captain on a fire engine in San Diego. He says he’s motivated by how far he has come since his first day in prison and the fact his parents and his partner can say positive things about him now that he’s contributing so much to his community.
- Henry Herrera served two terms with CDCR. During his second sentence, he served three seasons on a fire crew at Francisquito Camp #4. After he was released in October 2021, he only waited one month before receiving news he had been accepted to the VTC. Herrera graduated from the program in May 2022, and is now a wildland firefighter with CAL FIRE’s Lassen-Modoc Unit. Heaspires to be a crew captain. He is now pursuing his EMT certification and record expungement.
Record Expungement for formerly incarcerated firefighters
In September 2020, Governor Newsom signed Assembly Bill 2147, which provides an expedited expungement pathway for formerly incarcerated people who have successfully participated as incarcerated firefighters in the state’s Conservation Camp Program. If the expungement is approved, they then would be able to seek various career pathways including those that require a state license. Successful participation in a hand crew is determined by CDCR for those who were incarcerated in state prison. For those in county jails, the local county authority would make that determination.
Before his incarceration, Andrew Nutt had been a seasonal wildland firefighter with CAL FIRE and was overjoyed he had the opportunity to continue his career while serving his sentence. He served three years at various conservation camps during his time with CDCR. While incarcerated, he made connections with the forest service in Mendocino and had a job as a hotshot lined up before his release in May 2020.
Four months later, Assembly Bill 2147 opened a pathway for Nutt to seek record expungement. He gathered more than a dozen letters from character witnesses including former and current employers, fire captains, and friends and family at petitioned his court of commitment for expungement. By March 2021, Nutt’s record was officially cleared and he could seek his ultimate goal: employment with a municipal fire department. Nutt is now a full-time engineer for the Sacramento County Airport Fire Department.
Pre-Apprenticeship Programs After Release
Parolees statewide have the opportunity to enroll in financially supported pre-apprenticeship vocational programs, which provide classroom instruction, hands-on experience, equipment, work boots, and potential placement into well-paying union jobs. There are more than 70 pre-apprenticeship programs offered throughout the state.
Parolees need little to no experience in the trades and are referred to the programs through their parole agents. Applicants must attend an initial meeting and complete an application. Completion timelines vary depending on the program, lasting from four weeks to several months. Most of these apprenticeships are free of charge, but some do require the participant to pay union dues.
In the Sacramento area, several apprenticeship programs exist with a maximum of 15 – 20 students per class to provide individualized instruction. Construction Craft Laborer is its largest program, providing career planning, job placement upon graduationpaid union dues and entry level tools as needed. The Sacramento County Office of Education’s Adult Re-entry program contracts with Northern California Construction and Training to deliver the pre-apprenticeship training.
Organizations in San Diego such as HoMEwork SD connects individuals with Electrical Training Institute of San Diego and Imperial Counties IBEW Local Union 569. They assist individuals to obtain careers within the building and construction trades. Such opportunities included Electrical Workers Local Union 569; Ironworkers Local Union 229; Sheet Metal Workers Local Union 06; Sprinkler Fitters Local Union 669; Drywall Finishers Local Union 1399; and Teamsters Local Union 166.
Career Expansion, Inc., connects individuals with obtaining careers within the building and construction trades in Los Angeles. Some of those opportunities include Welders, Ironworkers, Electricians, Painter, Drywall Finishers, Floor Layers, and Glazers.