Program helps Madera County female inmates develop new skills

MADERA COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Construction is underway on a new mental health building at the Central California Women's Facility in Madera County, but the workers are actually female inmates in CCWF's labor pre-apprenticeship program.

"Empowering because it's a male-dominated field so it was like yay! We can do this. We're girls, we can do this. Lifting all the heavy equipment, all of that is just very exciting," said inmate Tasha Brown.

Brown is one of the 14 women, now graduates, who have spent months learning a new trade by the local union, starting in the classroom and working outside.

"We get to see the progress of our work," said Brown. "In the beginning there was nothing, and we dug all these big holes, and we installed all these pipes, and we did this with our own hands."

The program is the first of its kind in the state.

"This is our fifth prison in total that we've run this program, our first female, and there is of course two more female prisons, and my hope is we can find another construction discipline to offer to those inmates as well," said Corrections Construction Director Deborah Hysen.

Inmates say it's this work that's given them a new outlook on their future.

"I wanted to do something different with my life. I wanted to learn something new, a new trade besides working in the kitchen or being a waitress my whole life," said inmate Karen Horman.

On Friday, the women stood before their friends and family, wearing hard hats and graduating from the program.

"Trades in general or construction is very profitable. So a lot of these women will be able to take care of their families and be self-sufficient, which means they won't come back," said CCWF Warden Deborah Johnson.

Because of the success of the apprenticeship program, officials say they plan to continue work like this for the next several years.

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