Fresh from a grueling diver’s training program, 13 prisoners graduated last week at the Marine Technology Training Center at the California Institution for Men, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. It was the first graduating class since the program was suspended five years ago because of insufficient funds. Thanks in part to the Prison Industry Authority, a state agency that operates manufacturing and agricultural facilities at the state prisons, the program has been resurrected. The state is contracting with the authority for about $400,000 a year as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrestles with how to ease prison overcrowding and improve the rehab efforts of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
In the 1,800-hour program, inmates learn underwater welding, used in offshore construction in oil drilling and bridge building, as well as other marine industries such as operating and repairing diesel engines. They endure five-mile swims in a prison pool built by other inmates to develop the stamina needed to work in deep-sea construction jobs’ harsh conditions. The prison has a waiting list to get into the program, which trains 100 inmates a year at a cost of about $6,000 each. Graduates have at least an 11 percent less chance of returning to prison than the general inmate population, saving taxpayers $23 million a year. Alex Ballan, 37, graduated from the program in 1994 and came to this year’s ceremony. “For the guys here, it gives them a new identity, something to latch onto,” said Ballan, who served time for burglary.