Minimum-security inmates earn credits at NWTC for jobs after prison

Published: Jul. 9, 2019 at 4:24 PM CDT
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Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is making ‘re-entry programs for inmates’ a priority over the next two years.

In the budget he signed last week, he increased the amount of money for these efforts by almost $1 million.

“Secretary Frostman, myself and Governor Evers believe strongly in the capacity for people to change. If we only look at a person’s past and not their future and what their futures can be in their communities, families and society then we are missing a big opportunity,” said Kevin Carr, Secretary of Department of Corrections.

One of the inmate re-entry programs is offered at NTWC. Eleven inmates from Sanger B. Powers Correctional Center, a minimum-security facility, are working toward a certificate in industrial maintenance.

The 14-credit program is funded by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

“In 14 weeks we teach them industrial maintenance,” said Jeff Rafn, President of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. “I don’t know what they did or how they got in trouble, but I do know, unless they have the ability to get a job and support themselves when they leave here, they are just going to be back in trouble again.”

Rafn said last year’s group of inmates was a huge success. All eleven of the inmates, who graduated from the program, found jobs right away.

“The average wage of our last class, starting was $18 an hour,” said Rafn. “So 14 weeks, full-time, hard rigorous work and you start at $18 an hour, not too bad.”

Of the 24,000 people in DOC custody, Carr said most of them will return to our communities.

“If they are going to return, then I think it’s in our best interest to provide them with tools and opportunities and training in order for them to not go back to our facilities and contribute to our society,” said Carr. “The best anecdote to recidivism or crime is a person who has a job, working hard, and feels valued … those are the types of results we are looking for every day.”

“This labor shortage is hampering a lot of businesses, trying to find the folks they need. So if we can be creative and inclusive, in finding ways to fill those openings, while providing living-wage opportunities for folks in custody, it’s a win-win-win for everybody,” said Caleb Frostman, Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. “Green Bay and the Fox Valley have heavy concentration in manufacturing and construction, so the fact that the program is here really aligns with this areas industrial strength, so a good fit.”

“Our employers need these workers and their skills. The quality of our community depends on more of these folks in the workplace,” said Rafn.

Dustin Vandermeuse and William Haigh are about halfway through the 14-week program and are excited for what the future holds.

“When you come in here, you don’t know if you are going to turn left or right. But you come here (to NWTC) and you feel relieved. All the pressure is off your shoulders,” said Vandermeuse. “Get obligations taken care of and you know you have a job when you walk out the door.”

“Being able to take advantage of what they have to offer has been a great help in myself esteem and thinking, ‘Hey I can do this when I get out. Life isn’t over. It’s not the end of the world, it’s a hiccup in life and we can move on from this,” said Haigh.