Inmates graduate from program with hopes to enter dairy industry

A new program at a state prison is preparing inmates for life after their sentence. It’s also addressing the workforce needs of dairy farmers in Wisconsin.

Scott is one of the eight inmates from John Burke Correctional Center who graduated from the program Tuesday. While he is no stranger to the farm industry, growing up working with local farmers in central Wisconsin, now he is finally learning lessons that could help him land his dream job.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do all along in my work career but things get in the way,” Scott said.

Multiple OWI’s on his record and a year spent in prison have delayed those plans. Now, with help from the department of corrections and their dairy farm program he is able to serve time, while preparing for his future.

“We know that if they have gainful employment and employment where people want those skills they have a better chance at success as it relates to reintegration into their communities,” said Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher.

The eight-week program spearheaded by Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch teaches inmates how to raise calves, grow crops to feed cows and the basics of dairy farm operations. The program is offered through a partnership between the department of corrections and Moraine Park Technical College. Once they complete the program, inmates earn two college credits.

“Even though this is a dairy farm worker training program and they get specific technical skills regarding herd management and herd health …also just learning to get to work, to get through the work day despite of challenges with people and equipment and livestock and also to get work done. To be productive the whole time they’re on the job,” said Wes Ray, director of the Bureau of Correctional Enterprises

Inmates graduate from program with hopes to enter dairy industry

With over 9,500 dairy farms in the state of Wisconsin, Kleefisch said there’s a growing need to fill positions and the purpose of this program is to put more qualified people to work, despite their past.

“You have right now the foundation for a very successful career and one that is highly in demand. Don’t let your past determine your future,” Kleefisch said.

As a husband and father of two, Scott hopes the lessons he learned will create a better future once he is released.

“Obviously, I have done this to myself and I’ve left them at home and let them down but even given the circumstances of where I’ve been and how I got here I still made the right decision, the positive decision to move forward and to learn and grow and hopefully that is a great learning lesson for them, he said.

Those eligible for the program had to pass a math and reading exam. Once inmates are released the DOC’s transition program will assist them in finding jobs.

The milk produced by inmates is sold to correction facilities in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. Once inmates are released the department of correction’s transition program will assist them in finding jobs. There are at least 12 farms in the area that have already hired previous inmates.

The DOC along with its partners are now looking to evaluate the program’s success to access the possibility of continuing the program.