BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Experts agree that having a steady job does more than simply get the bills paid; working can also promote a person’s general health and well-being by providing them with a sense of purpose.

But obtaining gainful employment is incredibly challenging for some members of our community.

For example, when a person who’s been incarcerated tries to dip a toe into the waters of the working world, it isn’t uncommon for them to watch the many jobs they apply for swim by, just out of reach, one right after the other. 

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, this happens pretty often as one in three Americans have a criminal record that repeatedly hamstrings attempts to obtain gainful employment after incarceration.

But a few local institutions are working to change those statistics. 

The LSU College of the Coast & Environment, Blue Latitudes, Southern University’s Computer Science Department, and the Louisiana Parole Project are working on a National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator-funded project that’s provided ten Parole Project participants with the workforce training they’ll need to be successful in a world that’s become increasingly digitally savvy. 

Each of the ten students served at least 25 years behind bars and were eager to get the training needed to make the best of their second chance to reenter today’s technology-focused workforce.  

Interestingly, the project they worked on centered around finding a new use -or a second chance- for petroleum platforms that were, for one reason or another, deemed no longer fit for service. 

The program led an analysis of the decommissioned petroleum platforms being used as artificial reefs. 

LSU professors Mark Benfield and Ed Laws ran an evening class for the formerly incarcerated citizens at the Louisiana Parole Project with graduate students from Southern University’s Computer Science Department serving as course instructors. 

LSU says the class was structured to teach the ten students how to use computers and commonly used software packages before having the students spend several weeks processing underwater videos collected below petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The data they processed will eventually be used in the NSF project to predict the fisheries value of offshore platforms.

As the ten graduates make use of their training, all of the agencies involved remain hopeful that the former students will continue to work at jobs that contribute to their self-esteem and provide them with a sense of purpose. 

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