Ohio touts new job program, supports for inmates re-entering society

AT&T steps up with specific program to hire tower technicians; state budget proposal seeks millions in funding

Inmates preparing to leave incarceration in Ohio can train for tower technician jobs to help build broadband infrastructure in a newly announced program through the state and AT&T.

“Every year, 18,000 prisoners come back out into society,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said on Tuesday at Dayton Correctional Institution. “We want for them to get a job, to be productive members of society and to have a place to live.”

DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the telecommunications tower technician training program, launched in collaboration with Richland Correctional Institution, AT&T and other partners, will train certain screened inmates preparing to leave their facilities in a weeks-long, 250-hour course.

The Ohio penal system offers education and job skills opportunities in every facility, but more work is needed to cut back on recidivism – the frequency of an inmate reoffending and returning to incarceration, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections director Annette Chambers-Smith said.



In DeWine’s two-year budget proposal, additional funds are proposed for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections to teach inmates job skills.

In 2024, the request is for $46 million in spending for educational services; in 2025, another $51 million has been requested.

“I think everyone is behind that,” said state Rep. Bernie Willis (R-Springfield). “It’s about fixing probation, fixing those who are already in a state where they can make a transition. In the past, we haven’t been focusing on how we’re going to do that transition. We’ve been focused more on worrying about whether they step out of line.”

Officials visited the Dayton facility on Tuesday during a re-entry fair, where inmates were able to talk to leaders of programs related to employment, housing, recovery services and more.

Re-entry fair attendee and Dayton facility inmate Chelsie Kennedy said she wants to help other people with their trauma after she leaves the correctional institution later this year.



“I think there’s a fear for everyone with finding employment after this,” she said. “But it sounds like there are a lot of opportunities coming for us. I’m hard-working, I’m motivated and I’m excited.”

Husted pointed to a high job demand in the state, with “more jobs than people to fill them.”

Nearly 164,000 jobs were posted on OhioMeansJobs as of Tuesday.

Tower technicians are a high-demand job, with salaries ranging from $45,000 to $65,000 annually. AT&T Ohio President Molly Koncour Boyle said the company is in need of employees to carry out broadband infrastructure work.

“We support re-entry programs,” she said. “There is nothing that prohibits any of our suppliers or vendor partners from hiring someone who has been incarcerated. We are proud to be part of the solution.”

Husted said interested inmates will be screened for the program, where they will be required to complete 250 hours of training. Following their training, they will go through a work release program under the supervision of the Ohio Department of Corrections, allowing them to earn an income while incarcerated and have money to help them acquire housing and more when they leave incarceration.



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Robert Emigh, who is housed at Richland Correctional Institution in northern Ohio, is among the first students in the tower technician training cohort. His courses start next week, where he and his several other classmates will go to an area college three nights per week to begin studying.

He said that he wanted to learn the skills the program provided to have a good career after he finishes his sentence.

Prior to being incarcerated two years ago on drug and weapons possession convictions, Emigh said he worked on telephone poles, where he had to climb 20 to 25 feet in the air. His new career could see him climbing towers that stand more than 200 feet.

“But I’m not afraid of heights,” he said.

He also said he wants to be able to provide a happy life to his family.

“The first thing I’m going to do when I leave is hug my girlfriend and my kids,” he said.

Chambers-Smith of ODRC said two-thirds of the inmates who are gearing up to leave the Ohio prison system this year have parole officers they communicate with, but that also means one-third of inmates leaving incarceration are without direction.

“Imagine how panicked you’d be. Put yourself in the shoes of that person, if you’re standing there thinking, ‘what’s next?’ ” she said. “We want to make sure we don’t have Ohioans in that state.”

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