Low Unemployment Rates Encourage Prisoner Training

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“Technology is definitely going to be a steppingstone in keeping myself stable,” says Jennifer Fleming, one of eight women in a pilot program at the Indiana Women’s Prison that officials plan to roll out to other prisons in the state, the Wall Street Journal reports. Fleming, 40, passed a test and two rounds of interviews to be accepted. The program called The Last Mile aims to help inmates find work and stay out of prison once they are released. Researchers at Rand Corp. have found that inmates who participate in educational programs had 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison. Ex-inmates are typically among the last groups on the sidelines of the jobs market. The U.S. economy has been in a sustained period of low unemployment with many states across the Midwest and Northeast, in particular, experiencing labor shortages and employers needing to reach further for workers.

Officials in Maine, which had a 3 percent unemployment rate in July, are inviting employers to the state prison in Warren for a seminar on hiring prisoners in September. Organizers expected between 25 and 50 employers. So far, 114 have signed up, from retailers to construction companies. The state is proposing that employers send their own managers into prisons to train inmates.  “Everywhere you go up here, there are help wanted signs,” said Ed Upham, director of the state’s Bureau of Employment Services. “This is an overlooked population whose time has come.” In Wisconsin, where the unemployment rate was 2.9 percent in July, about 20 inmates build semitrailers for Stoughton Trailers LLC through a state work-release program to hire prisoners. They work as entry-level assemblers up to advanced welders earning as much as $20 an hour. Initially, the program was a tough sell for managers, but today the inmates who arrive every day provide a buffer against absenteeism, said Stoughton’s Meghen Yeadon.

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