Farming for a Better FutureTuesday, June 17, 2014 - Press Release
June is National Dairy Month, a holiday second only to Christmas and Easter here in Wisconsin. Earlier this week, I observed the occasion by visiting a rather unusual dairy farm: one run by the inmates of the Waupun Correctional Institution.
The obstacles to successful reentry for the customers of our correctional system are daunting. With no job, little money, and often no formal job training, inmates returning to society find themselves facing many of the same pressures and temptations that landed them in prison in the first place. In fact, a felony conviction or imprisonment significantly reduces the ability of ex-offenders to find jobs, costing the U.S. an estimated $57 to $65 billion annually in lost economic output. Additionally, an average of 45 percent of released offenders in Wisconsin return to prison within three years of leaving. These statistics show the need for a system that sets our inmates up for success with only a minimum chance of failure, rather than the reverse.
With nearly 9,000 individuals released from Wisconsin’s correctional system each year, correctional programs can provide the life skills and job training necessary to successfully reenter the community. That’s why I was excited to see the Waupun Correctional Dairy Farm.
One of four correctional farms in Wisconsin, Waupun Dairy employs a number of minimum-security inmates from the nearby correctional center. By handling many of the farm jobs, inmates take part in valuable job training and earn vocational skills before their release. Through programs like this, inmates develop marketable skills and work experience while also earning an hourly wage. Put simply, these individuals are getting the skills they need for the jobs they want when they get out.
Plus, this program helps us secure our state’s agricultural future. We need to produce more milk in Wisconsin, 30 billion pounds by 2020, and we need the farm workers to help us achieve that goal. We’re seeing a generational shift in our ag workforce that is creating demand for more willing hands, and innovative programs like this can be part of the solution.
On top of that, this farm is a great value for taxpayers. The correctional farm system is a self-supporting operation where farm products are used within the prison system and surplus is sold on the open market. This integrated system provides healthy, farm-fresh products while saving on operating costs.
The Waupun Dairy is just one example of creative efforts by our administration to reduce correctional costs, transform inmates, and build our state’s workforce. I saw another such initiative last month, when I joined Corrections Secretary Ed Wall and Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson in Racine. We christened a new mobile classroom that provides CNC machining training to inmates in partnership with a local technical college.
These and other programs are examples from the correctional system of one of our administration’s driving principles: we strive to make sure every Wisconsinite can find a good, fulfilling job, because there’s nothing else in life like the dignity of work and the power of a paycheck.