El Paso Community College to Introduce Welding Courses for La Tuna Inmates

El Paso Community College has struck a deal with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide welding training to incarcerated students, equipping them with the skills needed for job opportunities upon release.

The program is set to kick off this spring.

Approved by the EPCC Board of Trustees, the $520,000 agreement spans five years and entails the hiring of a full-time instructor by EPCC, along with facility upgrades at the Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna in Anthony, Texas.

Located approximately 20 miles northwest of El Paso, La Tuna is a low-security prison for male inmates. It houses around 690 individuals and offers vocational training programs in welding, automotive, and office technology. The welding program will be conducted at the prison’s satellite camp.

This collaboration between EPCC and the Federal Bureau of Prisons aims to assist incarcerated individuals in transitioning back into society successfully. The initiative aligns with EPCC’s commitment to supporting marginalized communities.

“Incarcerated students earn time off their sentences for every course they complete, but the idea is also to make them workforce-ready,” said Blayne J. Primozich, EPCC’s associate vice president for Workforce & Continuing Education. “That’s key to reducing recidivism.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 600,000 Americans are released from state and federal prisons each year, contributing to the significant population of individuals with criminal records. This can hinder their employment prospects, especially in securing well-paying jobs.

EPCC’s initiative to impart welding skills to incarcerated individuals at La Tuna federal prison aligns with its mission to serve underserved communities. The welding program, expected to launch this spring, will involve the selection of participants by prison authorities for a certification program lasting six to eight months.

By offering courses in welding, vehicle renovations, and HVAC systems at La Tuna, EPCC aims to equip participants with valuable skills that can lead to successful employment opportunities upon release.

The goal is for La Tuna students to achieve American Welding Society certifications in Shielded Metal Arc Welding and Gas Metal Arc Welding. The program includes theoretical education, safety training, and practical experience with industrial welding equipment.

Upon certification, participants will be eligible for employment in various sectors, such as maintenance and manufacturing shops, steel construction sites, and oil field operations, with remuneration ranging from $36,300 to $46,800, according to Salary.com.

Funded in part through the government’s First Step Act, the free training program aims to facilitate job training, reduce recidivism rates, and promote sentence reductions.

“The effort to teach welding skills to incarcerated students at La Tuna federal prison is an integral part of our mission to uplift underserved communities,” stated Olga L. Valerio, dean of EPCC’s Advanced Technology Center. EPCC’s collaboration with the prison over the years has proved beneficial in preparing individuals for successful reintegration into society.

Prison and college officials are committed to supporting certified welding graduates in securing employment opportunities post-release.

Louis Castillo, an industry project manager with Workforce Solutions Borderplex, emphasized the importance of current certifications in aiding formerly incarcerated individuals in their job search. Castillo highlighted the need for employers to be open to hiring candidates with criminal backgrounds.

However, individuals reentering society face numerous challenges, including homelessness, substance abuse, mental health issues, and transportation constraints, in addition to the stigma associated with having a criminal record.

Efforts are underway to expand educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals, with discussions taking place between La Tuna prison, EPCC, and the University of Texas at El Paso to offer college courses inside the facility using Pell Grant funds.

Plans are also in place to provide additional courses at La Tuna, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Education and official agreements with the participating institutions.

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