An Eye-Opening Experience

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves getting to know a very wide range of community and business partners that we work with here in the region.  One of these partners for several decades has been the Oshkosh Correctional Institution (OSCI), in which we continue to collaborate with in an instructional capacity.  David Hines, the education director for OSCI, recently invited me to visit the institution along with our VPs Chris Matheny and Patti Jorgensen.  We spent the morning touring and learning more about this area correctional facility.

Here are just a few of the things I learned about OSCI that I was unaware of before this visit and that I think you will also find fascinating:

Oshkosh Correctional Institution

Aerial View of Oshkosh Correctional Institution

  • OSCI is now the largest correctional facility in Wisconsin with over 2,000 male inmates at any given time.  This facility began as a 300-bed medium security prison in the mid-1980s, but I had no idea it had expanded to this extent over the years.
  • OSCI has a female warden, Judy Smith, whom we had the pleasure of getting to know on our tour.  I found out Judy is one of the longest-serving wardens within the correctional system today.  Come to find out Judy and I were in the same UW-Stout graduating class of 1978!  It is such a small world.
  • A significant portion of OSCI’s inmate population is there due to drug or alcohol-related issues and many others have mental health challenges.
  • OSCI has an incredible food service preparation and distribution operation that serves 7,000 meals per day!
  • As another major operation, OSCI handles the laundry service for all of Wisconsin’s correctional facilities.
  • OSCI has a segregation unit (sort of today’s version of solitary confinement) where inmates with behavioral issues are placed.  For those there on good behavior and willing to do something productive, a segregation school is offered.  Here we met four young men in a very controlled environment who were working with an instructor on their GED.  This was the most unique learning environment that I have ever seen.
  • The facility hosts a very specialized educational program and related work program where about 20 inmates, day in and day out, transcribe publications such as textbooks and children’s books into Braille to be used by the blind.  Absolutely amazing work.
  • We also toured another unique space in the facility…a vermiculture facility…which involves the production of worm castings as an excellent organic fertilizer that is then used in the gardens and grounds of the facility.

For decades FVTC has worked with OSCI in a number of ways, including certifying their instructional staff of about 20 teachers whom we had the chance to meet, and transcripting much of the coursework that is provided at the facility.  Today about 350 of the 2000+ inmates are given the privilege to participate in an educational program, but there are more opportunities that we can be exploring together to expand this participation.   For the inmates who eventually return to the outside world, having a skill set to be gainfully employed will be a key component of preventing recidivism and supporting their social reintegration.

I hope this gives you some idea of my “eye-opening” visit.  We are most grateful to our hosts, Warden Judy Smith, Deputy Warden Bob Hable, and education director David Hines, for the time spent with us and the insights they shared.

Did you realize the extent of the OSCI operation in Oshkosh or the existence of its unique educational programs?

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