chris and cinder blocks 2

Providing career opportunity inside juvenile hall

Programs in California’s Bay Area hope to provide more job training for incarcerated youth

In 2019, U.S. law enforcement agencies arrested more than 696,000 people under the age of 18, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

In addition, nationally, just under 25,000 youth (under 21 years) were held in residential placement facilities in late October of 2021.

The OJJDP found in 2017, “While national recidivism rates are not available, a review of state studies found that rearrest rates for youth within one year of release averaged 55%, while reincarceration and re-confinement rates averaged 24%.”

A unique arrangement between Contra Costa County Probation in northern California and some skilled trades nonprofit programs is providing youth with training while still incarcerated, with the hope it reduces recidivism rates and provides a sustainable pathway upon release.

A Viable Pathway

In 2023, Chris Alvarado participated – at juvenile hall – in the Multi-Craft Core Curriculum (MC3), a comprehensive pre-apprenticeship training curriculum.

Chris Alvarado, 1HYE and Opportunity Build graduate

Alvarado – now 20 years old – was immediately interested when he learned MC3 was being offered. “In high school, I took wood shop class, and I really enjoyed it. Once I found out that they were doing classes like that in juvenile hall, I jumped on the opportunity. I knew I wanted to do something like this – construction and stuff.”

Alvarado explains the curriculum during the nine months of training, “They had us building sawhorses. They had us building a wall where they put all the tools – hanging right there. They had us do tool identification. They taught us about OSHA safety on how to use power tools, measuring, math, and all about different unions.”

“They had a bunch of union reps give a presentation. They showed us slides and showed us different paths. [We were] doing mock interviews – getting us prepared so once we get released it’ll be easier for us to find a job.”

Lejon Fahim Reese is director and founder of Motivated 2 Help Others and a co-founder of 1Hundred Years Enterprise (1HYE). It was Reese and his 1HYE co-founders that provided the MC3 classes.

Lejon Fahim Reese, co-founder, 1Hundred Years Enterprise and founder and director, Motivated 2 Help Others
Continued Training Outside Juvenile Hall

What makes the opportunity afforded Alvarado unusual is after completion of MC3, he was given permission to continue his training by being transported for 12 weeks back and forth from juvenile hall to an outside skilled trades program – Rising Sun Center for Opportunity.

Reese recalls, “I talked to the higher-ups inside juvenile hall. ‘Let’s try to bring these young men out to continue their journey in workforce development. It was the first time ever in Contra Costa County this was done. And they looked at me like I was crazy – ‘But Fahim, you might have something. Let’s sit back and see what we can do.’”

Last summer, he personally provided Alvarez with his rides back to juvenile hall at the end of every training day.

“For us, it was very unusual. That was the first time we had ever had anyone currently in custody attend any of our cohorts in any kind of way,” notes Marlin Jeffreys, director of Opportunity Build at Rising Sun.

Marlin Jeffreys, director of Opportunity Build, Rising Sun Center for Opportunity

There is history between Reese and Rising Sun. Upon his own release from prison in 2018, Reese joined the Opportunity Build program.

He says, “I met Marlin at a parole meeting. Marlin talked about Rising Sun and the building trades. It just stood out to me. Then found out we both are from Richmond. I’m like, ‘This is the best place for me to go.’”

These days, in addition to his work with 1HYE, Reese teaches fitness classes at Rising Sun through his nonprofit Motivated 2 Help Others, as well as the organization’s construction classes.

What Comes Next

Upon completion of the Opportunity Build program last September, Alvarado was released shortly after from juvenile hall. He immediately went to work at a sheet metal company and has just begun his apprenticeship journey with the Ironworkers Local 378.

Alvardo says, “I’d be thinking about like, ‘Damn, things just changed that quick. To be honest with you, if you would’ve told me that from the beginning, I would’ve not believed it.”

He adds his mother is proud, “She’s really happy that I switched my life around. I actually got a future.” Long-term, Alvarado hopes to help others in the same way he was helped. “I’m going to try to work myself up to become a business rep. The guys came from the Ironworkers and talked to us and showed us slides and stuff – that’s what I’m going to do. Go back to juvenile halls or communities and spread the word.”

Julia Hatton, president and CEO at Rising Sun Center for Opportunity notes, “I’m really impressed by Chris and his initiative – and how he took the trust that was placed in him and went above and beyond with it.”

Julia Hatton, president and CEO, Rising Sun Center for Opportunity

She adds, “What I’m struck by is the fact that Chris’s participation in Opportunity Build let him come home early and let him get his life back on track sooner than later.”

“I think every day, every month, every year counts. And I mean, it’s so much better for everybody to have him in this career now or on this career track than it is to have him in custody. It’s just better economically, socially, personally, emotionally, all the things.”

Jeffreys and Reese echo Hatton’s thoughts. Jeffreys says, “I think that this was an amazing opportunity. As someone who’s been formally incarcerated myself and from the Contra Costa area, I understand the impact that something like this could have on providing the necessary skills for an individual who has all this additional time on their hands.”

“It’s groundbreaking. Rising Sun wants to serve more people like Chris, more people like myself, more people like Fahim, and be a part of their journey, give back, give them guidance and support, as necessary.”

Reese says, “I would like to add this here to anyone out there who will read this, ‘Stay prepared for the opportunity.’ Rising Sun changed my life. I knew I wanted to be on a straight path. I was going to stay on a straight path, but we have genuine people like Julia and all the staff putting this together.”

Lastly, Reese offers this advice, “When someone wants to give you some good advice or wants to mentor you, don’t be quick to say ‘no.’ Open your ears up because you never know what you might hear, what you might see, what can change your life, whether you know ’em or not. I learned that some of the great people that came into my life were those who were not of my former life.”