CTA expands employment program for people exiting prison

March 6, 2013

(Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ)
Michael Russell's supervisors praised him for his hard work and focus.

Michael Russell had trouble getting work because he served time for a drug crime. He couldn’t support his family and considered returning to the street.

But today, he stood near a podium, flanked by politicians and clergy. He folded his hands neatly and smiled as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised him.

Russell recently completed a nine-month apprenticeship with the Chicago Transit Authority designed for people returning from prison. He’s now working a CTA job. 

“I mean this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  If it wasn’t for this program I don’t know what I’d be doing,” Russell said.

So far, only 15 people have been hired after their apprenticeships. But today, Mayor Emanuel, along with CTA President Forrest Claypool, annouced the program quadruple in size. There will now be 265 spots, making it one of the largest ex-offender programs in the country.

Emanuel’s been under public pressure because of this year's crime rate. He said that this program was a sort of crime prevention.

“If you want to make sure that an ex-offender does not become a repeat offender, you have to have job opportunities for them to prove themselves,” Emanuel said.