Vice Media offering apprenticeships to former inmates

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2016 1:11 PM
Vice Media offering apprenticeships to former inmates

NEW YORK (AP) — Vice Media is starting an apprenticeship program at its Brooklyn headquarters for recently released prison inmates, saying it wants to take action on an issue that the media company has been reporting on for the past few years.

Starting early next year, Vice will hire five former inmates for production, editorial and marketing jobs, the company said Thursday. If it works well, Vice will look to expand and encourage other companies to start their own programs.

Vice, the thriving youth-oriented company with magazines, cable and digital channels and news shows that air on HBO, has focused on prison reform since its documentary "Fixing the System" was shown on HBO in 2015. The documentary featured President Barack Obama visiting a federal penitentiary in Oklahoma.

Vice CEO Shane Smith said that while the apprentice program is a small step toward tackling the high recidivism rate among former inmates, he wanted to "alleviate some of these issues by putting our money where our mouth is."

The company is working with the New York-based Center for Employment Opportunities, which is employing more than 7,000 former inmates in temporary jobs with the hope they develop skills and a work history that would lead to more permanent employment. The center helps employ people in New York, California, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.

Studies have outlined the difficulty former inmates have in landing jobs once they get out, and how hard it is for them to keep away from crime when they can't.

The Vice program is important because it goes beyond the low-skilled jobs that former inmates usually see, said Sam Schaeffer, CEO of the Center for Employment Opportunities.

"It's not just working with your hands, not just working in a warehouse," he said.

Everyone at Vice who has reported on prison issues was struck by the difficulties faced by people once they get out, said Alyssa Mastromonaco, the company's COO, who formerly worked in the Obama White House. It took a while to start because Vice wanted a program where participants were learning valuable skills for a modern economy, she said.

"It's not just activism, rallying for a cause," she said. "This is meaningful institutional change if you can do it."

Those accepted into the program get six-month jobs, working 40 hours per week for $15 an hour. People aged 18 to 25 living in New York City and on probation or parole are eligible. Vice would not say how much money in total is being committed to the program.

Mastromonaco said she hoped the experience of participants would help Vice's reporting on prison issues. Similarly, Schaeffer said work in a media company will help give more attention to problems in the criminal justice system.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded Vice's announcement. "Rehabilitation not only benefits those returning to our communities, but all taxpayers," Cuomo said.