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Frostman column: Jobs centers in correctional institutions

Recently, I met Frank, an inmate at Oakhill Correctional Institution. For the past decade, he's been serving time for various crimes, including drug offenses and burglaries.

He'll be the first to tell you that he's done wrong in his past. Having spent the bulk of the last 10 years locked up, he's had plenty of time to reflect on his misdeeds and on his upcoming release.

In 45 days, Frank will be released from OCI, prompting him to ask, "what happens next?" With a criminal record and a 10-year employment gap on his resume, job prospects are top of mind. If he's not able to make a living wage quickly, will he be able to attain and maintain stable housing, afford transportation to and from work or job interviews, and buy groceries and new clothes for the first time in a decade?

Frank's story is similar to many other men and women who have served their time. Based on the latest report from the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Wisconsin released 8,952 inmates from DOC institutions in 2016. Between 2015 and 2017, OCI alone released over 750 inmates.

After serving their sentences, many formerly incarcerated people face the same issues that contributed to their criminal behavior. Without adequate support and resources, recidivism becomes far more likely. Even prior to taking office, the Evers administration has been strategizing on how we assist in breaking the cycle of recidivism.

The answer, from stakeholders across the political spectrum, has been nearly uniform: jobs. Quality jobs allow former offenders to earn a self-supporting, living wage. Jobs that will allow them to pay their bills and their taxes, and invest in their housing, their health and their retirement. There has been no greater antidote to recidivism than quality, stable employment.

For Frank, he now has that opportunity because of the job center at OCI, which provides career counseling, resume creation, veteran services and job application assistance. And with access to email, instead of handwritten mail with a prison's return address, ex-offenders have a far greater chance at being considered for employment.

The interagency partnership between the Departments of Workforce Development and Corrections effectively connects the dots between reducing recidivism rates and creatively and inclusively addressing Wisconsin's workforce shortage.

This is one of many reasons why I am proud to support Gov. Evers' budget, which funds four more job centers within correctional facilities. Giving soon-to-be released inmates the skills and resources they need to find and keep a job that will provide self-sufficiency, while also building our workforce, is a win-win for the formerly incarcerated and for Wisconsin.

Caleb Frostman is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

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