There are many programs available to become a certified diver, but this one takes place behind a barbed wire fence. California has more than 115,000 prisoners locked up in state prison. According to a 2012 report by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, just over 65% of those released from California’s prison system return within three years. One prison program has proven very popular among inmates and has also dramatically the reduced recidivism rate among it’s participants.
At the California Institution for Men, a state prison in Chino, a state-run program inside the Chino prison helps convicted felons become divers, welders, riggers, mechanics, and construction supervisors. The on-site Marine Technology Training Center takes men with no underwater experience to professional, employable divers. Each inmate who stays out of prison saves the state around $47,000 a year – which is what it costs to house each inmate. Uniquely, the Career Technical Education program receives no funding from Sacramento; it was financed solely by the profits of the products that inmates produce in factories in other areas of the prison. But making the cut to be a part of the program isn’t easy – the physical training held in the first week is so intense that 80 percent of those who sign up for the dive school drop out that week. In total, 200 inmates sign up each year and only around 20 graduate. To qualify, participants must complete 10-mile runs; intense sequences of squats, pull-ups, push-ups and dips, followed by a dreaded five-mile swim. Those who make it through the physical screening have historically all gone on to graduate. Increased oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is spurring more demand for divers and offers options the men never had. As an entry level diver, pay is around $15 an hour but skilled divers can earn up to $100,000 within four years on the job.
See the video below from the Bravery Tapes for a closer look at this unique program: