VICE Media announced a new program yesterday (December 8) that aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals overcome some of the institutional hurdles that block their way back into the workforce.
The company partnered with the Center for Employment Opportunities to develop a six-month paid apprenticeship for people with criminal records. According to a company statement cited by Variety, the apprenticeship will launch in early 2017 and will be available to people between the ages of 18 and 25 who are on probation. The apprenticeship will pay $15 an hour for a 40-hour workweek.
"Our aim is to help provide those with little to no college or workforce experience with the tools and skills needed to succeed in the media industry," read the VICE announcement. Selected apprentices will work alongside staff at the company’s Brooklyn headquarter in a variety of editorial and creative areas, including news reporting and video production.
VICE co-founder and CEO Shane Smith hosted a special last year on mass incarceration that highlighted President Barack Obama‘s visit to Oklahoma’s El Reno Federal Correctional Institution (FCI El Reno). It marked the first time a sitting U.S. president has ever visited a federal prison.
"While working with President Obama on ‘Fixing The System,’ our documentary on prison reform, I was struck by the high recidivism rate, and by the fact that once you enter into the system it is indeed very hard to get yourself out," Smith told Variety. "It is admittedly a small step, but hopefully other media companies will follow suit and not only push for change, but also nurture a whole new group of producers, shooters, cutters and hosts that will offer a new perspective not only on prison reform, but life itself."
A Sentencing Project report cited in the VICE announcement notes that more than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated people are jobless a year after release. Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities, and the hiring biases against those with criminal records mean that many people of color are essentially eliminated from the workforce after incarceration.
VICE’s announcement corresponds with the launch of a new series on criminal justice reform, and a Smith-hosted special on Obama’s presidency and the vitriolic right-wing opposition to it that debuts tonight (December 9) on HBO.