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Grants aim to help inmates find work before leaving jail

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government is trying to help inmates improve their job prospects before getting released from local jails, through a $10 million program announced Thursday.

The Department of Labor already administers a grant program designed to help ex-inmates find work, but the mentoring and training generally occurs after their release. Federal officials want to explore whether opening job centers inside jails would help more inmates find work by giving them a head start on their resumes, interviewing skills and job leads.

More than 9 million people are released from county and local jails each year. Many have multiple barriers to overcome to finding a job, such as low education levels and a history of substance abuse.

“We have to do more to help them land on their feet as they return to their communities,” said Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in a news release announcing the program.

Perez once served on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, which opened a job center in the country jail nearly a decade ago. Perez wants to try the program out on a national scale. Twenty communities were selected from 58 grant applicants.

The money is designed to get the program up and running, with applicants also being evaluated based on efforts they will take to keep the program going in future years.

California is the biggest beneficiary with four communities getting $500,000 grants. The states of Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin each had two grant winners.

Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board received $499,929, and the Workforce Development Board of South Central Wisconsin in Madison received $500,000.

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