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Wisconsin Trying New Reentry Programs

| July 7, 2017

Finding and maintaining employment is an important part of any inmate’s reintegration to society.  A 2015 study by the Manhattan Institute found that non-violent offenders were less likely to be arrested again if they received job training and found gainful employment.  The chances of reoffending were lower if employment was gained closer to reentry.  In other words, the sooner an inmate found a job, the less likely they were to return.

Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) recognized the connection between jobs and offense rates, and took action.  On Tuesday, eight inmates completed a new training course offered by DOC.  The new training course, a joint venture between DOC and Moraine Park Technical College, teaches inmates the day-to-day operations of dairy farming – which can be used as transferrable college credits.  The program successfully connects trained inmates with employers and has been seen  as a win-win for both prisoners in need of job training and employers seeking new hires.

Unfortunately, DOC’s reach is limited due to the geographic proximities of the state prisons. In their budget request, DOC asked the legislature to allow programs to be based out of county jails – in addition to state prisons. The state’s budget writing committee, in an effort to purge all non-fiscal items from the budget, removed the provision.  Undeterred, Rep. Michael Schraa and Senator Dan Feyen introduced the proposal as stand-alone legislation.  Assembly Bill 345 and Senate Bill 264 gives DOC the latitude of developing job training and employment opportunities for state prisoners held in county jails.

Last week, the Assembly passed their bill with no known opposition.  The Senate should follow suit, act promptly, and let DOC continue with your innovative approaches to reentry.

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THOMAS LYONS entered the legal field after receiving an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois and a law degree from Marquette University. Working in offices in Kewaunee and Sheboygan Counties, Tom’s practice focused primarily on criminal defense, juvenile, and mental health law. Switching to the world of policy, Tom started as a legislative aide to a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, followed by a State Senator, and for a brief time Governor Scott Walker before joining Right on Crime on 2017.

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