The federal government is looking towards La Crosse County to establish a new model for jail education to help ex-offenders develop meaningful job skills and, ultimately, stay out of jail.
Most county jails have some sort of educational program. In La Crosse, inmates can work to get their GED, take financial literacy classes, and explore new careers. Once they get out of jail, there hasn’t been an organized support system in place to make sure they don’t reoffend.
That’s now changing. Western Technical College recently received a grant from the federal Department of Education to create Project PROVEN. The goal is to have students serve their time then re-enter the community with career goals.
Project PROVEN coordinator Tonya Van Tol says people in jail generally don't know there are community resources available to them. With this program, she says communication will strengthen among organizations to make sure an ex-offender stays on the right path.
Van Tol says the program will also disprove assumptions that many ex-offenders have, like how no one will hire someone with a criminal past: “‘I have a record, I’m not qualified for anything’ or ‘I have a felony, I can’t get financial aid,’” says Van Tol. “You can still receive financial aid with a felony in certain circumstances.”
Van Tol says education gives people a feeling of self-worth. She says when people find meaningful work they are less likely to end up back in jail.