Study after study has shown that people who find employment after being released from prison are much less likely to reoffend. Unfortunately, former prisoners are often released with limited resources, little to no job training or education, and few opportunities for employment. Their probation or parole conditions can make it even harder to find and hold down a job after release.
It’s time to make things easier for people with criminal convictions to reintegrate into society. After all, 95% of them will be eventually returned to their communities. Hundreds of thousands of people are released from prison every year. Getting them back on track with jobs and housing is in society’s best interest.
Now, Wisconsin is working to reduce the barriers former prisoners face when they return home. For one thing, Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (WIDOC) has received several federal grants. For another, it has partnered up with the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin (WDBSCW).
Working with WDBSCW has allowed WIDOC to experiment and see what works. WIDOC has opened job centers at Oakhill Correctional Institution and four other locations, which have been such a success that the agency plans to open five more this year. Workforce development boards work directly with employers, so a partnership just makes sense.
WIDOC is also offering a pre- and post-release program it calls “Windows to Work” in several jails and prisons around the state. Coaches help people in prison with issues like financial literacy and work skills, how to create a resume, and how to search for and apply for jobs. After release, Windows to Work helps people continue their job searches and access community resources to help with housing, food, clothing and transportation. It can even provide funds for transportation, work supplies and education.
One former prisoner, Benjamin, found a job as a kitchen manager through Windows to Work. The program also helped him find housing, provided a security deposit and first month’s rent, and paid for clothing for the job.
About 9,000 people return from prison to communities in Wisconsin every year. Each of those people needs this basic support so they won’t be forced back into their old lifestyles.
This type of collaboration between workforce boards and state corrections departments is still rare, but it’s growing. It’s a model that could be critical to reducing recidivism.