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Wisconsin Dairy Industry Taps Prisons for Workers

The struggling industry trains inmates to perform dairy jobs that nobody else wants.

This week, eight inmates graduated from a new dairy farm program at the John Burke Correctional Center in Wisconsin. Inmates in the Wisconsin prison system are working in the Department of Corrections’ four dairy farms as part of an eight-week job training program spearheaded by the state’s Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. “You have right now the foundation for a very successful career and one that is highly in demand,” Kleefisch said to inmates about the dairy program. “Don't let your past determine your future.” Earlier this month, Arizona dairy farmer Paul Rovey spoke about the dairy farm labor shortage in the US, stating, “Over half of the US dairy farm labor pool is comprised of foreign-born workers and our industry today cannot operate without immigrant workers. Yet, despite unemployment rates, we can’t find enough American workers to fill our job needs—they’re just not interested in working on a dairy farm.” In addition to struggling to find employees, the dairy industry has experienced a continual downturn in profits over recent years—which stands in stark contrast to Kleefisch’s uplifting statement. The plant-based industry, however, created 60,000 high-paying jobs and boosted the US economy by $13.7 billion in 2016 alone.

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