From offender to employed: targeting a new workforce

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) Community leaders take a new approach to get more people working or in higher paying jobs -- especially those on probation or parole.

"It's a resource we can't afford to waste anymore," says Jim Golembeski, excutive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board.

With a record low number of people out of work, employers are in constant search for new staff.

Golembeski says worker shortages are projected to continue for 10-15 years, so he's encouraging employers to turn to a new population of potential employees.

That's leading to Brown County community members and the Department of Corrections to team up.

"One of the things we have to do is look at groups of people who are already in our community, some of whom are employed, under-employed, and you have to maximize the talent of all the workers that we have," says Golembeski.

He says that talent lies in the tens of thousands of people on extended supervision, probation or parole -- either released from prison or jail or who never served time but were put on probation by a judge.

As of the end of May, 3,753 people in Brown County, and 66,236 people statewide were under supervision of probation and parole agents, according to the DOC.

Golembeski says that's a large part of the workforce often overlooked.

"Anybody who has a conviction record is going to have some barriers," he says.

To change that, Golembeski is leading the charge to create the Brown County Community Corrections Coordinating Committee, bringing the DOC and jobs people together to figure out how they can get more people working or moved into higher paying jobs.

"We need people up at that $18, $19, $20 an hour position, not the $10 and $11 an hour," says Golembeski.

The committee is meeting for the first time Thursday to figure out how each can do their part and make this a continued conversation.

The DOC received $3 million in the last budget to increase jobs training for inmates being released, and says it's seen 95 percent success.

In a statement, it tells us its focus is on "enabling offenders on supervision to be successful and live crime-free," adding that "training and work release opportunities... will benefit public safety."