FILE - U.S. Rep. Mark Walker

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina has proposed a measure that seeks to reduce recidivism rates in the country.

Walker introduced House Resolution 4369, which expands apprenticeship programs for formerly incarcerated people, veterans and high school students among others.

Criminal justice advocates say the legislation could help erase employment barriers for returning citizens.

“Employment opportunities are hard to come by for individuals with a criminal record, even when the prior conviction is unrelated to the nature of employment,” Julia Hawes wrote of North Carolina Justice Center.

HR 4369 would give access to apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship opportunities to inmates and people with criminal records. 

Apprenticeship programs offer paid job training, education and credentials. Often, the programs are completed on the job. 

Congress enacted the National Apprenticeship Act in 1937. The goal of the bill was to create more skilled workers in the country. Employers, education institutions and labor organizations can register for the programs through the Office of Apprenticeship, which offers credential and guideline support. 

There are 585,000 apprentices in programs throughout the United States, according to the Department of Labor. About 91 percent of apprentices go on to start careers with an average wage above $60,000. 

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in June 2017 that further promotes apprenticeships. He doubled federal spending on the national program to $200 million a year.

Giving former inmates access to training and employment could also save taxpayers money.

It costs taxpayers about $30,000 a year per inmate in North Carolina. There are more than 35,000 people incarcerated in the state.  

About two-fifths of ex-prisoners in North Carolina are rearrested within three years of release, according to the North Carolina Justice Center.

Research shows that wages and job quality are important factors in reducing recidivism.

Using prison records on 4 million offenders released from 43 states between 2000 and 2013, Harvard economist Crystal Yang found that prisoners who were released to a county with higher low-skilled wages had lower recidivism rates.

Walker’s office could not be reached for comment, however; the congressman has a history of pushing criminal justice reform legislation.

Walker co-sponsored the First Step Act of 2018, which was signed into law by Trump in December 2018.

The federal bill increases the amount of time inmates can cut off of their sentences due to good behavior; reduces sentences for drug charges; adds more discretion for mandatory minimum sentences; and improves health and hygiene accommodations for female inmates.

“Looking forward, we must continue to restore families, heal communities, and help people find redemption – rather than condemnation – through additional reforms,” Walker said following the passing of the First Step Act of 2018.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.