Since 2007, we have been providing vocational training to formerly incarcerated Americans.
When a person is released from jail or prison, he/she has a criminal record. Doing a background check today is very low-cost and very low-effort, so almost all employers do one before hiring. If there are two or more applicants for a job, the one with the criminal record is not given the offer, even if he/she is a better applicant otherwise.
In our experience, almost all entry-level no-skill jobs fall into this category (retail, office admin, etc) and thus are off-limits to the formerly incarcerated.
Therefore, to get a job, a formerly incarcerated person must apply for a job where there are not enough qualified applicants to fill all of the positions. This usually means a skill job that either requires a specialized license (bus or truck driver) or a specialized skill (construction trade like electrical or plumbing).
Getting these skills however is not easy. Getting trade skills requires hands-on training usually on a job site.
Getting a truck driving license (Commercial Driving License or CDL) requires passing a challenging written test (as well as a driving test). To pass this test requires many hours of study of written material.
Once on the outside, convicts need to eat each and every day. They need work immediately to pay for food. They cannot afford to spend precious days studying for a written exam.
There is a place where convicts have large amounts of time to study written material because their housing and food are already provided: jail and prison.
A simple solution, therefore, is to provide the CDL Study Manual to inmates in jail or prison, as well as practice tests. The inmates can study the manual and take the practice tests until they are passing each section (>80% correct answers) with ease.
Then upon release they can take the DMV written test. The most relevant sections are General Knowledge, Air Brakes and Passenger Vehicles. Once they pass the written test, they can schedule an appointment with the DMV to take the driving test. While waiting for their scheduled test date, they can join a truck driving class.
There are state and federal programs that pay the truck driving school tuition for formerly incarcerated who have passed the written DMV CDL test. However, it usually takes 8 weeks to complete the application process, and then the truck driving schools that are certified to receive these state and federal grants only offer classes that run at least 10 weeks (and cost over $4,000). Most formerly incarcerated do not have the savings to pay for food, housing and transportation during this extended period, and therefore cannot afford to wait 18 weeks before getting a job, even though they do not have to pay for trucking school tuition.
The solution is to sign the formerly incarcerated person up for a class at a non-certified trucking school that has good reviews on Yelp and that offers shorter more intense training. These trainings can often be had for $2,000 or less and can provide enough training in 1-2 weeks to pass the driving test.
1. A point person inside the jail or prison is identified who will administer the CDL Training Program. The Mochary Foundation provides this person with electronic copies of the CDL Manual as well as practice exams for General Knowledge, Air Brakes and Passenger Vehicles (the most relevant exams). The point person inside the jail:
a. Hands out paper copies of the CDL manual.
b. Hands out paper copies of the practice exams for General Knowledge, Air Brakes and Passenger Vehicles
c. Administers practice exams (different from the exams used to study) when a convict feels ready to be tested.
2. Once the inmate is release from prison or jail, they contact us.
a. We then get them the money to pay for the state DMV fee to take the CDL written exam. In CA in 2017, that amount was $73.
b. Once the candidate passes the DMV written test for General Knowledge, Air Brakes, Combination Vehicles and Passenger Vehicles, they send us proof by email or text of their having passed (a photo of the DMV certificate).
c. We send them money to pay for a physical exam from a Department of Transportation (DOT)-certified medical doctor. Once the candidate gets this exam, they go back to the DMV to get their CDL permit issued, which allows them to train in a truck (or bus if they passed the Passenger written test).
d. We sign the candidate up for a high-quality truck or bus school as close to where they live as possible, and pay for the commuting costs.
4. At their first day of CDL school, the candidate schedules a driving test with the DMV, which is usually 3-4 weeks out. The candidate then trains until the test date. For the driving test, the CDL school provides a bus or truck along with a licensed driver to get it to and from the DMV. The candidate takes the test in this vehicle and hopefully they pass the test. If they do, they have a Commercial Driver License. (If they don't pass the first time, no problem. They simply schedule another driving test and train some more. So far, all of our candidates have passed on their first or second try.)
5. The candidate is now able to get a job. And we help them do it. Through our extensive alumni network, we have real-time knowledge of which companies are hiring and at what pay. We share all of this information with our candidates. In our experience, however, this step is rarely needed as formerly incarcerated people with Class A licenses are able to find jobs quickly through online classifieds and reaching out directly to bus and truck companies.
Current wages in the Bay Area:
No skill position (retail, etc) $12/hr
Truck driver $16-40/hr
Bus driver $20-35/hr
Electrician (apprentice) $18-20/hr
Electrician (journeyman) $40-60/hr
Plumber (apprentice) $18-20/hr
Plumber (journeyman) $40-60/hr
Clearly the eventual goal should be to become a tradesperson. But it is difficult to break into the trades and get hired as an apprentice. In the interim, being a bus or truck driver is the easiest way to actually get a job and make a living wage immediately.
Which written exams
There are many certifications available for a CDL license. General Knowledge is required for a Class B license (smaller trucks and buses). General Knowledge and Air Brakes are required for a Class A license (larger trucks and buses). And Passenger Vehicles is required to drive a bus.
In most urban areas, bus drivers are in greater demand than truck drivers, and Class A licenses are in greater demand than Class B, and therefore earn a higher wage.
We therefore recommend that all formerly incarcerated study for, take and pass the following three tests:
Which driving test
You can take either a bus or truck driving test. If you pass a Class A truck driving test and have passed the Passenger written exam, you are not able to drive a passenger bus. In order to drive a bus, you must pass a passenger bus driving test.
In the Bay Area, there is a constant demand for passenger vehicle drivers. During times of significant construction (as in the current environment), there is also a high demand for truck drivers. The passenger driver rate is fairly steady through the years. The truck driving rate fluctuates more.
In the fall of 2017, truck driving in the Bay Area pays more than passenger vehicle driving. When the construction boom slows, passenger vehicle driving will pay more.
Knowing this, the formerly incarcerated person should choose either a truck or passenger path. Those with a sex crime conviction are not eligible to drive a passenger vehicle. They must choose the truck driving path.
Most trucking schools train either on a bus or a truck. (They can only train on the vehicle that they own, and most schools own only one or the other.) Therefore the first consideration is whether the school trains for the test you need.
The second consideration is the school’s location. Can the formerly incarcerated person reasonably get to and from the school?
The third consideration is the school’s cost and quality. The goal is to get the best training in the shortest time for the least cost. Yelp reviews are the best way to judge a school’s quality.
The ideal model is Coast to Coast Trucking School in San Jose. They have a membership model which costs $2,000. Once a student is signed up, they are a member for life. The school is open M-Sa 8am-5pm. The student can attend and train whenever the school is open. Most students are able to get enough training to pass the driving test in 5-15 days. The school provides a truck and licensed driver for the DMV test, and will continue to do so until the student passes the test. The school’s Yelp reviews are excellent.
The downsides of Coast to Coast are:
1. They do not train for the passenger bus test.
2. While they are flexible and low-cost now because they are not a DOT-certified school, they will at some point become certified, and then they will only give 10 week courses, and charge $4,000+ for them.
Thus, the list of preferred training schools will always be in flux and must be investigated anew each time.
What We've Achieved
- In 2016, we helped 3 formerly incarcerated people in the Bay Area get their CDL A license and a living wage job.
- In 2017, we helped 6 formerly incarcerated people in the Bay Area get their CDL A license and a living wage job.
- In 2018, we are on pace to help over 20 formerly incarcerated people in the Bay Area get their CDL A license and a living wage job.