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Justice-Involved, “I second that chance”

By Lenard Simpson, Education Director of Justice-Involved Populations, Wisconsin Technical College System

As Wisconsin emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic this spring, it will be challenged with high unemployment rates and labor markets limited due to their ability to find skilled workers. Justice-Involved citizens – those who have spent time incarcerated – will be among those unemployed, but not because of the lack of skill, and most likely unable to obtain employment due to a criminal history. The Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) wants to change that by making the commitment to serve the Justice-Involved and give them the skills that will outweigh their past to give them the best opportunity to obtain sustainable employment. Will you “second that chance”?

Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges have established decades of state and local partnerships with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), as well as local county jails. Since 2017, 11 of the 16 technical colleges provided education services to 25 of 27 state prisons, annually awarding more than 30,000 credits to over 6,000 individuals. In addition, all 16 colleges work with 38 of the state’s county jails, and serve an average of 1,500 individuals, offering opportunities to pursue basic skill instruction (reading, math, English Language), high school completion, career training and postsecondary credentials to obtain sustainable employment.

I am Lenard Simpson, a Wisconsin native who has served my community in multifaceted areas of law enforcement, including a Milwaukee Police Officer, Waukesha County Sheriff’s Correctional Officer, State of Wisconsin Probation and Parole Officer, State of Wisconsin Correctional Sergeant and a Criminal Justice Instructor. I joined the Office of Student Success at the Wisconsin Technical College System office in April 2019 as the Education Director of Justice-Involved Populations. This includes aligning our local, state, and national initiatives, with a focus on data-driven solutions that impact equity and success for all students. This equity includes those folks who are looking for a second chance, the Justice-Involved.

One does not have to look far to find a life that was changed by a second chance. Most of us can look around in our own lives to find one who’s life has been positively impacted because of a second chance. Yes, there are some risks in hiring those with a criminal history and you may be wondering why you should be the one to take the risk. Interestingly, the colleges have found the Justice-Involved students to be filled with more optimism, valued attendance, and determination as they make sacrifices others take for granted, just to be a student and will prove to be the same as an employee.

You may not be familiar with our work, but we believe in creating skilled employees by providing up-to-date education that will produce real employment opportunities for the Justice-Involved. Employers need a skilled workforce, and these potential employees need employers as partners to create a new life for themselves and their families.

We can change a life, one second chance at a time!