CHICAGO (CBS) — The CTA is expanding its apprentice program for ex-offenders to clean buses and trains.

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the program has 65 slots available, and will get an additional 200 positions.

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Michael Russell, 38, enrolled in the program in 2010, after serving three stretches in jail for cocaine distribution.

He said the program has given him a chance to make an honest living, and also be a real parent for his three children.

“They have a father now. Before, I wasn’t really a parent,” he said.

CTA President Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the expansion of the program in the CTA barn at 642 N. Pulaski Rd. on Wednesday.

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The apprentices start at $9.25 an hour, and can work themselves into jobs as CTA bus drivers.

The mayor said the program is designed to ensure those involved do not go back to a life of crime.

“Whether it’s a mentoring program, whether it’s strengthening our families, or whether it’s this opportunity, I want to make sure that an ex-offender does not become a repeat offender,” Emanuel said.

Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina, was on-hand for the announcement. He applauded the program, but also questioned why so many people – particularly minorities – are being locked up in the first place.

“We’ve got to change the prison system, particularly in the drug law situation, because we are incarcerating masses of numbers,” he said. “The key word we said is ‘ex-offender.’ Michael is an ex-offender, so we’ve got to stop treating him like he is a present offender.”

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Claypool said the program, organized in partnership with the Amalgamated Transit Union, would screen out any ex-offenders convicted of violent crimes, domestic abuse, or sex crimes.