USC Price School of Public Policy

MPP Paper

Green Pathways Home

Master of Public Policy Candidate, 2010
University of Southern California
Price School of Public Policy

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Currently California faces two great opportunities for job creation and economic growth. The first is in the emerging sectors of the green economy. The second is the urgency to grow these sectors generated by Governor Schwarzenegger’s goal of obtaining 33% of the state’s electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2020. California also currently faces great challenge in the high recidivism rates and overcrowding of its correctional and rehabilitation facilities. Recidivism rates are bolstered by lack of educational and vocational training in correctional facilities, resulting in individuals being unprepared to enter the legal workforce upon release from prison.

Emerging industries in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors are the fastest growing sectors of the United States economy, and they are producing jobs that are often accessible to workers with high school degrees or less. Investment into the green economy – a high proportion of which is within California – is also yielding a high rate of career ladder jobs. The emerging green economy holds various opportunities to create “green pathways home” for the previously incarcerated, specifically through these jobs accessible to those with low levels of education and skill. Job training programs for incarcerated or recently incarcerated individuals in these green jobs will help to create an adequately trained workforce for the emerging green economy, and will also help to reduce recidivism rates.


The state of California currently faces tremendous opportunities and challenges across many sectors. One growing opportunity is in the job creation and revenue generation provided by the green economy that is expanding across California, specifically in the energy efficiency and renewable energy industries. One challenge of note is the high recidivism rate in California’s prisons; however, opportunities from the green economy may provide a means to address California’s challenges with its high recidivism rates. Adequate job training programs that allow opportunities for prisoners to enter into lawful careers are shown to be a key factor in reducing recidivism rates. i

A new crop of green jobs is being created in the green economy, at higher rates than jobs in comparable fossil fuel industries. Many of these jobs are available to individuals with low levels of education, such as those who are incarcerated in California’s prisons, and offer opportunities for individuals to enter onto career ladders. California has a unique chance, as the green economy begins to grow, to allow access to the emerging jobs and industries by creating job training programs for incarcerated individuals, thereby creating for them “green pathways home.” Such training programs will reduce recidivism rates, better the environment, and adequately train more workers for the emerging green economy.

PROBLEM: Recidivism and the Goal of a 33% Renewable Energy Portfolio in California

California faces many problems and opportunities as the 2000s come to an end. Two prominent issues are 1) the challenge set by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2009 when he signed an Executive Order that 33% of California’s electricity is to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2020ii and 2) the high recidivism rates and overpopulation of California’s correctional and rehabilitation facilities.

Currently, approximately 12% of California’s retail electricity comes from renewable resources. iii As the state moves towards this 33% goal, significant changes will have to be made in the energy infrastructure; legislation will have to be crafted supporting clean energy and “green” industries; and workforces must be properly trained to staff these emerging industries. Southern California Edison has expressed concern that demand for renewable energy is currently outpacing supply, iv further supporting the need to promote emerging industries and adequately train workers in order to avoid potential market failure.

An opportunity exists for California’s renewable energy portfolio to affect the state’s recidivism rates. An examination of recidivism today shows that in California, the prison population is currently more than 160,000, v and the vast majority of those released will return to low-income minority neighborhoods with very few skills to offer employers. This lack of opportunity for jobs and prosperity contributes to two thirds of those released being likely to commit new crimes, vi leading them back to prison. This cycle of high incarceration rates, lack of job training and economic opportunity, and high recidivism is not only a tragic cycle but also imposes economic costs. The quality of life for individuals released from prison remains diminished with few options. Their families and communities are afflicted by the ex-prisoner’s return to jail and subsequent lack of positive financial and social contribution. The quality of life of victims of crimes can be affected by monetary or property loss, bodily harm, death, and/or a diminished feeling of safety. Finally, the state of California and its taxpayers must bear the financial burden of over-capacity prison populations and increased crime rates.

Based on the model that job training helps to reduce recidivism rates, some education and job training programs are offered to prisoners while incarcerated (such as instruction in restaurant and food service job skillsvii) in an attempt to provide them with skills with which to make a legal living upon release. However, the current amount of programming is inadequate to address the large prison populationviii, and very few programs within prisons offer training in the fastest growing sector of the American economy, which is the green economy.


Emerging Industries

The green economy includes the fields of environmental services, energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean technology, and offers a range of “green jobs,” from energy auditors to environmental engineers. A greener, cleaner economy will allow California (and the United States) to move towards a clean energy future; reducing carbon output, improving environmental quality and public health, increasing national security by reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and creating a significant number of new jobs.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2009 projected that if the bill were made into law, $190 billion dollars would be invested in clean energy and energy efficiency through 2025ix, two billion tons of pollution would be reducedx and 1.7 million new clean energy jobs would be createdxi.

Industries nationally and in California are attempting to achieve such goals. The green economy is the fastest growing sector of the U.S. economy, with the renewable energy industry developing three times as fast as the U.S. economy as a wholexii. Some sectors of the emerging green economy (i.e., solar thermal and biodiesel) are showing more than 25% in annual revenue growthxiii. In 2007, the U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency industries generated more than nine million jobs and $1,045 billion in revenuexiv. In 2008, in California, businesses in these green technology industries employed more than 43,000 workersxv. Though the renewable energy industry is growing at the most rapid pace, the energy efficiency industry is much larger, and constitutes the highest proportion of green jobsxvi. While the renewable energy industry focuses on new technologies such as wind, solar, tidal, biodiesel and nuclear energy, the energy efficiency industry works on making houses and buildings more energy efficient, simultaneously bringing down energy bills and reducing greenhouse gasses.

Energy Efficiency Meets California’s Prisons

The energy efficiency industry already has developed relationships with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In October 2008, as part of the Governor’s Green Initiative Executive Orderxvii, construction began on 16 energy efficiency retrofit projects within the state’s prison system, with the goals of conserving energy by making the buildings themselves more energy efficient and of saving more than $3 million in energy costs per yearxviii. The state already has two solar fields at two different facilities and has plans to build six morexix. Currently these green jobs are performed by private contractors and paid for, in part, by investor-owned utilities, and are of no cost to the statexx. At this time, there is no access to these jobs retrofitting prison facilities by the prisoners themselves, though there is precedent for such work as overseen by the Prison Industry Authorityxxi. (It should be noted that there are often many obstacles to procuring and maintaining legal employment for both incarcerated and previously incarcerated individuals, such as employer fears of hiring an “undesirable” population, barriers for the population to enter some trade unions, and certain legal restrictions. xxii However, government grants are often available to small businesses that hire previously incarcerated individualsxxiii, and many trade unions are open to bringing the ex-offender population into their apprenticeship programsxxiv.)

Green Jobs

The sectors of the green economy with the highest rates of revenue growth include solar thermal, solar photovoltaics, biofuels, and fuel cellsxxv. The fastest growing jobs in these industries include welders, construction workers and managers, metal workers, electricians, and mechanical engineersxxvi – a large proportion of which are accessible to workers with high school degrees or lessxxvii. Measured against comparable fossil fuel based industries, there are 3.6 times more jobs requiring high school degrees or less emerging in the green industriesxxviii.

Many of these green jobs also offer the opportunity for workers to start on a career ladder in a specific industry, opening up opportunities for promotions and higher wages over time. Studies show that investment in the green economy is yielding career ladder jobs at a rate seven times greater than would be created by investment in comparable fossil fuel industriesxxix – and this investment is significant. Private investments of venture capital in emerging green industries are large and growing, specifically in California. In the third quarter of 2008, California received $1.1 billion in cleantech investments, which is 42% of the total investment in that industry worldwidexxx. Global investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy has grown over four-fold in the last four years, up to $148 billion from $33 billionxxxi, and by 2020 investment is expected to top $600 billion annuallyxxxii. All of the capital flowing in is, overall, resulting in the creation of 3.2 times more jobs than investment in comparable fossil fuel industries. xxxiii

Green Pathways Home

These high rates of quality job creation may be significant given the recent U.S. economic downturn, with current unemployment rates at 9.8% nationally and 12% in Californiaxxxiv. There is an opportunity to use the green wave of job creation as a tool to help reduce recidivism rates. Studies show that incarcerated individuals who participate in educational and job training programs before release have substantially lower rates of re-arrest and subsequent re-incarceration than those who do notxxxv. The green economy holds various opportunities to create “green pathways home” for the previously incarcerated, specifically through the jobs accessible to those with low levels of education. (Incarcerated individuals are disproportionably and increasingly undereducatedxxxvi.) Adequately trained to return to their communities prepared to enter emerging green workforces, individuals released from prison can decrease their chance of recidivism and start on a career ladder, while simultaneously contributing to creating a cleaner environment.


The two issues of the growing green economy and the high recidivism rates in California provide an opportunity to bolster the economy with a trained workforce and to reduce recidivism rates, in the form of green job training programs for incarcerated individuals. The green economy is the fastest growing sector of the American economy, and many of the jobs being created by emerging green industries are accessible to workers with high school educations or less, making them ideal jobs for the undereducated prison population.


i Darrell P. Wheeler & George Patterson, “Prisoner Reentry,” Health & Social Work, Volume 33, Number 2 (2008): 145-147.
ii Galbraith, Kate. 2009. Schwarzenegger Orders Increase in Renewable Energy Use. New York Times, September 16. (accessed October 20, 2009).
iii Ibid.
iv California Energy Commission. 2007. Meeting California’s Electricity Needs – Integrated Energy Report. scopingplan/document/ scopingplandocument.htm (accessed October 22, 2009).
v Cate, Matthew. 2009. Corrections – Moving Forward. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Office of Public and Employee Communications. IV. (accessed October 22, 2009).
vi Ibid.
vii Locke, Cathy. 2009. Tahoe jail’s culinary program heats up inmates’ job skills. The Sacramento Bee, March 2, Section 1B. (accessed October 25, 2009).
viii Cate, op. cit.
ix House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454). June 23, 2009. (accessed September 19, 2009).
x Larsen, John, Robert Heilmayr. 2009. Emission Reductions Under the American Clean Energy and Security Act. World Resources Institute, May 19. (accessed October 21, 2009).
xi Pollin, Robert, James Heintz, and Heidi Garrett-Peltier. 2009. The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy. Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts, Amherst, June. (accessed October 19, 2009).
xii Bezdek, Roger H. 2009. Green Collar Jobs in the U.S. and Colorado: Economic Drivers for the 21st Century. American Solar Energy Society, Green Jobs Reports, January. (accessed October 19, 2009).
xiii Ibid.
xiv Ibid.
xv California Energy Commission. 2007. Meeting California’s Electricity Needs. Integrated Energy Report. scopingplan/document/ scopingplandocument.htm (accessed October 22, 2009).
xvi Bezdek, op. cit.
xvii Verke, Paul, Seth Unger. 2008. California’s Prison System Goes Green Announcing 16 Major Energy Savings Projects, and Upcoming Wasco Solar Fields. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitarion News, October 9. (accessed October 22, 2009).
xviii Ibid.
xix Cate, op. cit.
xx Verke et al, op. cit.
xxi State of California. 2010. Overview. California Prison Industry Authority. (accessed April 7, 2010).
xxii Holzer, Harry, Steven Raphael, Michael A. Stoll. 2003. Employment Barriers Facing Ex-Offenders. Urban Institute, Publications, May 19. (accessed April 7, 2010).
xxiii Employment and Training Administration, US DOL. 2010. Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Business & Industry, Government Incentives & Assistance. (accessed October 22, 2009).
xxiv Jeffrey Henderson, Union Liason at PVJobs, In-person interview with author, March 11, 2010.
xxv Bezdek, op. cit.
xxvi Ibid.
xxvii Pollin et al, op. cit.
xxviii Ibid.
xxix Ibid.
xxx Cleantech Group LLC. 2008. Cleantech venture investment reaches record of $2.6 billion in 3Q08. Press Releases, October 1. pressreleases/011008.cfm (accessed October 20, 2009).
xxxi United Nations Environment Program. 2008. Analysis of Trends and Issues in the Financing of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency. Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment. fileadmin/media/sefi/docs/ publications/Exec_summary.pdf (accessed October 19, 2009).
xxxii Ibid.
xxxiii Pollin et al, op. cit.
xxxiv Employment Development Department, State of California. 2009. California’s Unemployment Rate Decreases To 12.2 Percent. Press Releases, October 16. (accessed October 22, 2009).
xxxv Spangenberg, Gail. 2004. Current Issues in Correctional Education. Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy, pp. 2, February. (accessed October 25, 2009).
xxxvi Ibid.