Jim Golembeski, Envision Board

It is universally agreed that we have a severe workforce shortage in Northeast Wisconsin. Our state reported a mere 2.8% unemployment rate in December, the lowest on record, so it is no surprise that we lack workers to fill jobs. Might I suggest that we find the solution in our incarcerated population?

I’m not talking about chain gangs or forced labor. I’m talking about the kind of work release the Wisconsin Department of Corrections already has in place, releasing inmates from facilities such as Sanger B. Powers, west of Green Bay. What if we took that program to scale? Sanger B. Powers maintains 120 beds, while the Green Bay Correctional Institution has 1100 men incarcerated. Would it not be good if those numbers were reversed?

Each prisoner costs taxpayers about $32,000 per year. Fifty men working at $12 per hour, full time, would earn about $1.5 million, money that could go far to pay the expense of incarceration – and child support and restitution and more, including federal and state taxes. And those men would be getting work experience in the real world! Employers would have a pool of workers delivered to their doors each day!

Many of our state prison facilities have great training programs. Kettle Moraine prison, near Plymouth, has training in welding, cabinetry, and masonry. Taking that starting point to its logical conclusion, we have a real opportunity to turn a debit into an asset in an economy in which no other workers would be displaced. We do it simply by building on a program we already have in place, easing the workforce shortage and building our economy.