Wisconsin is confronting a skilled labor shortage and a state prison system operating above capacity. Neither of these problems have popped up overnight. The causes of these two phenomena are likely not related, but a partial solution can be.
A recent Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel feature highlighted Wisconsin’s efforts to expand worker training and education as part of their reentry efforts. In the last couple of years, the state has worked to identify areas of high labor demand and partnered with local schools to develop courses to meet those demands. More recently, a similar model has been designed to incorporate soon to be released offenders. Vocational training programs are expanding, and the number of participants are expected to increase, as more resources have been made available to the Department of Corrections from both the state and federal governments.
Early outcomes are promising. A study by RAND Corp., highlighted in the article, shows participation in educational programs results in significantly lower reincarceration rates (43%). The report also includes encouraging data citing that completion in a vocational program results in higher employment rates upon release. When combined with other evidenceshowing employment reduces the chance of reincarceration of nonviolent offenders, the expansion of vocational training in the Wisconsin prison system could result in significant savings for taxpayers.
Savings aside, the human impact is dramatic. Vocational training, unlike more general employment training, is aimed at preparing someone for a specific career as opposed to a job. Jobs offer a feeling of self-worth and financial independence. Careers offer all of that as well as the potential for future success and security. Given the extra benefits, it is easy to see why vocational training creates powerful incentives to avoid re-offending.
The combination of reentry services and the problem of skilled labor shortages is still relatively new and more data is needed to confirm these early findings. However, the early outcomes suggest successful vocational training with other reentry services generates wins for everyone.