By Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch
Fourth-grade students from across Wisconsin visit the lieutenant governor’s Capitol office throughout the school year. In the office, a wooden box displays all the challenge coins I’ve been given. There are coins representing military, fire and police, each a reminder of the sacrifices they make to keep our families safe. But a second storyline is built into the display case itself, which was hand-crafted by inmates at Waupun Correctional Institution thanks to Badger State Industries.
Just like we need police officers to keep us safe, we can also improve the security of our communities by giving our inmates the training that leads to good, well-paying jobs. I appreciate the excellent reporting by Lisa Speckhard Pasque on the skills education opportunities offered to Wisconsin’s prison population. This is an issue that I’ve worked on for a number of years now, and I’m pleased by the significant progress we’ve made, though I know there are still capacity issues we must address.
Here’s the bottom line: Unemployment is hovering around 3 percent in Wisconsin. As the Wisconsin State Journal has recently reported, the worker shortage facing employers across our state is reaching a crisis point. But that crisis creates opportunity, because employers are more open than ever to hiring nontraditional workers if they’ll show up, do a good job, and stick with it. So now more than ever is the time to make major progress in getting ex-offenders into the workforce.
As Lisa wrote in her story, we’re up to 24 certificate or college credit programs offered by technical colleges in our prisons. And though it’s easiest to do in the minimum-security setting, we’re increasingly offering more academic opportunities in our medium-security facilities through mobile lab classrooms.