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Oakhill Job Center could be replicated

A pilot job center program established at Oakhill Correctional Institution to help inmates find work upon their release could soon be expanded to other correctional facilities in Wisconsin.

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In his former profession as a school counselor, Grahn understood the connection between education and employability, and that’s why he’s a big proponent of the Oakhill Job Center. “In the past few months, there’s been a lot of positive comments,” he says. “I get a lot of the requests from them [inmates] if they want to come and access the space, so I’m pretty busy. I’m out there every day reacting with the DWD staff in the job center, and seeing the emails back and forth to employers, and the excitement and the hope that it’s generating for our population here, it’s rewarding for me.

“It’s been going well. There were a few bumps right away, but with anything new like a pilot program, that’s to be expected,” Grahn adds.

Palzkill notes the Oakhill Job Center is just one of the ways the two agencies are partnering to provide workforce resources to soon-to-be released inmates as they transition back into the labor pool. Currently, Racine Correctional Institution hosts a mobile CNC (computer numerical control) lab for inmates, which provides CNC training and connects trainees with local businesses upon release. Two more mobile labs are under construction: a welding sector training center and an industrial maintenance training lab. DWD and DOC are also working on an industrial maintenance training program at Red Granite Correctional Institution.

Woodruff credited the Department of Workforce Development, noting that from the beginning, his department had a willing partner. “There are a lot of things to figure out along the way, but from our perspective, it was all worth it,” he says. “We’ve overcome the lack of inmate access to technology resources, and how would we allow them to access a space? And how’s the staffing pattern going to work? Our two agencies, as well as the local workforce development board, we’re all-in when thinking about how this is going to make the lives of our population better.

“We knew that it would, so we proceeded and kept moving forward,” Woodruff continues. “To this point, even though it’s only been a few months, we’re excited about the potential here and excited to expand in the future.”

After prison promise

Palzkill notes that with Wisconsin’s unemployment rate at or below three percent for 11 consecutive months, and the number of open jobs exceeding the number of unemployed workers, employers are seeking skilled employees to fill vacant positions. Since more than 90 percent of Wisconsin’s inmate population will eventually be released, he says the partnership will tap into that workforce by preparing inmates for in-demand careers and for successful reintegration into the community.

Clare Hendricks, deputy communications director of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, says the department and its executive leaders have been working with the new Evers administration on practices and policies that would both reduce recidivism and make communities safe for everyone. “We haven’t maybe spoken specifically about this, but I know that re-entering society and giving opportunities to our inmate population are goals that we share,” Hendricks notes, “and that really have proven to reduce recidivism, reduce crime rates, and to put our inmate population in a great place to succeed once they return to the community.”

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