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By Arashi Young | The Skanner News
Published: 01 October 2015

Aaron Martin defied the odds when he left the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility. Martin, a 21 year-old man, who had been incarcerated for three years, found a living-wage job just two weeks after his release.

He attributes his success to MacLaren’s vocational training program that taught him metalworking, machining and computer-aided drafting.

“I had a little bit of work experience to take out into the field when I left, so I was able to gain meaningful employment where I could actually start a career,” Martin said, smiling widely.

Officials at the Oregon Youth Authority hope to repeat Martin’s achievement through the expansion of its industrial arts vocational training. The new facility opens to students within MacLaren starting this week.

The Moody Industrial Arts Complex at MacLaren had a successful welding program for a number of years and some basic carpentry equipment. The new program includes a virtual welding education tool, a machine shop and an automotive repair program.

Over the past six months there has been an investment of $750,000 to purchase the new machinery and tools. Superintendent Dan Berger said shifting demographics from underage young inmates to older high school graduates, prompted this change.

“It’s more than just coming here and learning how to weld. These kids can walk out of here with community college certificates in welding, automotive and as a machinist,” Berger said. “They'll walk out of here with credentials to enter the job market for family-wage jobs.”

Enrollment in the vocational school has quadrupled. There used to be room for about 20 students. Now they have 80 slots, and they are all full.

The school is part of a four-fold plan to reduce recidivism among youth offenders.  Key investments include therapy and life skills training, education, vocational training and the fostering of social bonds. OYA officials estimate that every dollar invested pays $25 back to society as the youth works, pays taxes and contributes to the economy.

The welding education tool allows teachers to train youth in a virtual environment without wasting resources on trial and error. The tool also trains for multiple types of welding including MIG, TIG and stick welding, allowing youth to gain multiple certifications in a short period of time.

Principal Michael Conn said MacLaren pays for its students’ certification exams even if the students don’t pass the exam. He said these tests can cost $300-$400 each outside the institution.  

When the OYA began planning for the new facilities, they asked the youth what kind of skills they would like to learn. Conn said an overwhelming majority of students wanted to learn auto repair.

OYA partnered with the Snap-on Tool Company to create an auto repair program that covers small engine repairs, basic auto engine repairs, brake system service, electrical systems and steering and suspension. Youth who complete these courses will earn an Automotive Services Excellence certification.

During an open house tour of Moody, The Skanner News saw a demonstration of the new machine shop. Blueprints were fed into a Computerized Numeric Control Router and the new tool sawed large planks of plywood into perfectly cut dog house walls.

The youth supply these insulated doghouses for their partner organization, Fences for Fido. The non-profit builds fences for dogs that live outside, are confined to small pens or are chained up. Fences for Fido documented this work with MacLaren in a YouTube video earlier this year.

Previously, it would take over 100 minutes to cut the plywood into dog house walls; the new machine gets the job done in less than 10 minutes.

The computer-aided design classroom works together with the machine shop to teach youth 3-D design. From these designs, they can run instruments like the CNC router as well as electronic mills and lathes. They also have access to a laser engraver which can carve substances like wood, glass, steel and stone.

Berger said the new additions, the welding tools, the machine shop and the automotive program, are ways to capture the interests of the incarcerated youth and keep them engaged. He said the shop has a vibrant community around it.

The welding studio is adorned with sculptures built by the youth. There are large metal sunflowers sitting on the tables like potted plants. There are sculptures that look like carved pumpkins and barking dogs. Even the industrial tables in the room were made by the students.

“The kids that have been involved in moody really feel like they own this space as a program,” Berger said. “You see a lot of pride with these young men when they come in here, and they are welding some of their creations.”

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