Program helps former inmates get new start in construction

Posted at 5:31 PM, May 22, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-22 20:36:34-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new program is helping turn lives around while addressing the critical labor shortage in Kansas City. 

Jacob Chapman, 20, says his life is already changed. 

"My personal opinion, I'd much rather be doing this all day until 9 p.m. if I could instead of being in jail," Chapman said as he nailed in a joist hanger at the home he's helping to build. 

Chapman hasn't been on the job that long - a week and a half - but he's paving a path completely different than the one he was on before. 

"If you've been incarcerated and you sincerely want to change your life, then get into a program like this," Chapman said. 

He is one of 15 people who have recently graduated from the program Construct KC, which helps give inmates like him a second chance. 

With a $200,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Labor and the corrections department, the Home Builders Association and contracting partners provide 12 weeks of training and a job in a construction field. 

Those who go through the program can start out making $15 an hour. 

"We have a 200,000 man and woman shortage in labor in United States," contractor David Elliott said, who is taking in laborers like Chapman. "The average age of your construction worker right now is 46 years of age. The average age of a welder right now is almost 60." 

Kansas City has a hot housing market and construction is booming, but not enough young people are showing interest. Elliott says carpenters and framers are desperately needed. 

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics says former inmates have over a 75 percent chance of going back to jail within years of being released. Construct KC could be part of the answer to the labor shortage. 

Construct KC picks inmates who qualify to leave their corrections facility, have a low risk of going back, and have showed responsibility in other work programs. 

"We haven't done enough to work with the prison programs to get people out and give them the tools to succeed," Elliott said. "We're able to give a trade to somebody which allows them to create a life for themselves." 

Chapman says now he's able to be a breadwinner for his wife and kids and plans to stick with his new profession. 

"If we don't get that second chance, that's just like throwing us away," Chapman said.