Having spent the early part of his career as a military police investigator and as a narcotics officer in Alabama, Charles Pattillo has seen firsthand how job skills, particularly high-level skills, can make the difference between a repeat convict and a rehabilitated individual with a new career. When he joined the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), the agency had a program in which inmates produced items such as license plates and shoes.

Pattillo thought that wasn’t enough. “We started developing programs that were nontraditional and nonexistent in the prison system,” says Pattillo, now CALPIA’s general manager. “We focused on construction and carpentry and ironworking. We knew the demand out there for trained people was huge.”

Charles L. PattilloCharles L. Pattillo
Folsom, Calif.
ENR 12/11-18/17 p. 95
Creating technology and construction programs that prepare prison inmates for returning to the workforce.

In addition to apprenticeship programs with state labor unions for vocations ranging from construction trades to deep-sea diving, CALPIA now is training inmates in computer coding and Autodesk-certified CAD programs—the latter being the only one of its kind so far. A dozen parolees have obtained work with companies, including engineering firms and universities, since the Autodesk program launched in 2014. So far, the recidivism rate is zero.

Getting support for the idea of training convicts on computers certainly wasn’t easy. “Chuck challenges others to see his vision. He is always looking for innovative opportunities and many times confronts the status quo,” says Milo Fitch, chief of workforce development for CALPIA and a former chief deputy for the Sacramento sheriff’s department. “When people scoffed about bringing technology to inmates, he was undeterred. He rallied others to support and adopt his vision for the future and the possibilities that could be attained. His vision for bringing technology to inmates inside a prison is now a beacon for others to follow.”

Pattillo has spoken with peers in several states and other countries who are interested in implementing coding and CAD training programs for their prison populations. He also is building partnerships with Silicon Valley firms—for example, Facebook recently hired one of the coding graduates. “The biggest and most gratifying thing is seeing someone get out of prison, moving to the next level of supporting themselves and their children, and living a good life,” Pattillo says.

CALPIA is expanding the CAD and coding programs to include all three female prisons, one juvenile facility in Ventura and Pelican Bay State Prison, which is the highest-security state prison in California. “The AutoCAD program is particularly gratifying to me because it’s training inmates for good jobs that will be of great benefit to society,” says Scott Kernan, secretary for the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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