Wisconsin prisoners learn farming and ag job skills

(L-R Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski, Wisconsin Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr, Bureau of Correctional Enterprises Director Wes Ray at Waupun, WI state-operated dairy farm)

A successful Wisconsin job training program is giving some people farming and people skills for future employment. 

Director Wes Ray refers to the inmates as persons in their care, and each one must earn a chance to work on the farm or in the dairy plant, and they go through an interview process just like any other business.

Craig from the West Bend area joined the farm crew four months ago and is on the first shift milking parlor crew, and he tells Brownfield he would not rule out working on a farm when he’s released in two years. “I could always help out at a farm and definitely, with the experience I’ve gotten here, it would be easy enough to help out.”

Anthony is a machinery operator delivering feed to the cows. “Well, I’ve learned a lot of patience mainly, and working with others, learning new skills. I definitely have a whole new respect for farmers. They work hard all of their lives.”

Ray says he has an employer outreach campaign to help Bureau of Correctional Enterprises employees secure good jobs when they are released. “We want to help the employer meet their staffing challenge.” He says 90% of the people released from prison are employed when they leave the system.

The milk and ice cream made at the Waupun facility is contracted to Wisconsin and Minnesota prisons and mental health facilities and cannot be sold to the public. During the fiscal year 2021, Waupun Dairy produced 89,000 five-gallon containers of skim milk, 350,000 cases of skim milk half-pints, 18,000 cases of ice cream, and 7,000 cases of sherbet.

Other Bureau of Corrections Industries programs around the state make highway signs and woodworking projects, operate a printing shop and an industrial-scale laundry, and yes, they even make license plates.

(Craig and Anthony’s last names were withheld at the request of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections)

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