When I first took office eight years ago, our state’s greatest challenge was finding enough jobs for people. Now, that challenge is reversed, as today businesses across Wisconsin are looking for more workers to fill available jobs.

It’s an improvement from where we were in 2011, but it means that we must now look for creative ways to expand our workforce to people who were traditionally left out of it, like former inmates in our correctional institutions.

Today at Oakhill Correctional Institution in Oregon I marked the opening of our first prison-based Job Center. This is an exciting new collaboration between the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Department of Workforce Development, and long a dream of my office, where we have seen the challenges of employers and the unemployed. The job center will be open every week with a host of programs and services, including career readiness programming, job search assistance, and resume development.

Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch at Oakhill Correctional Facility Job Center (provided by the Lt. Governor’s office)

During my time as your Lieutenant Governor, I’ve seen the impact that training and educating our inmates has on them, their families, their employers and our statewide economy. When people have a skill and a credential, they can get good jobs, avoid poverty, and live tax-paying lives. The same goes for prisoners. Prison should be a punishment for violating the law, but it can also be a springboard to a better life.

One example. In 2017, I spearheaded a program that trained inmates from the John Burke Correctional Center in Waupun in our state’s top agricultural industry: dairy. Moraine Park Technical College (MPTC) partnered with the DOC to teach inmates the ins and outs of the dairy business. They learned how to raise and feed cows, grow crops, care for farms and other basic dairy tasks.

Then, once they’re released, the inmates could use that training – coupled with classroom instruction they received while incarcerated – to choose to work at Waupun (for a wage of $14.81 an hour) or they could pursue careers on farms in other parts of the state.

Sixteen inmates have already completed this Dairy Worker Training at MPTC. And while that number may not seem like a lot, each of those inmates costs our state and taxpayers roughly $32,000 a year while incarcerated – close to what they’d earn working full time at $14.81 an hour.

Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch at Oakhill Correctional Facility Job Center (provided by the Lt. Governor’s office)

When inmates have an education or training as they’re leaving an institution, they’re more than 40 percent less likely to re-offend. Plus, they become contributing, taxpaying members of our society. This Dairy Worker Training is one program I’ve worked on that speaks to this success.

In just my second term as your Lieutenant Governor, I’ve spoken at over a dozen graduations for inmates across our state – from those in this dairy training program to machining certifications to drug and alcohol treatment court.

Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch at Oakhill Correctional Facility Job Center (provided by the Lt. Governor’s office)

I believe in the power of second chances. And I believe in the power of obtaining a skill or credential.

As we confront the challenge of filling open jobs in Wisconsin, let’s continue to discover untapped populations here at home. Many of the inmates I’ve met over these past eight years are ready to work once they’re released. Let’s give them the opportunity to do so.

Rebecca Kleefisch

Rebecca Kleefisch is lieutenant governor of Wisconsin.