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Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump tout women's prison program that teaches coding

U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, walks on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange after speaking to CNBC in New York, U.S., December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Ivanka Trump are fighting the “lock them up and throw away the key” school of thinking when it comes to Americans who run afoul of the law. 

They are both working to bring more Americans off the sidelines and into the workforce as co-chairs of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which President Trump created in July 2018. That effort extends to the millions of Americans currently incarcerated and millions more with criminal backgrounds.

This week Ross and Trump visited Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis with members of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board to highlight a workforce development program called “The Last Mile,” which teaches inmates coding skills.

“This is a very important initiative, not only from a workforce development point of view, but from the humanitarian point of view,” Ross said. “There are now 2.3 million inmates in prison, some of whom will be out very shortly. It's very important that they have a clear and good career path so that you don't have a lot of recidivism.” 

Ross points to Indiana as a model for workforce development programs across the country. “Early results show that 70% of prisoners engaged in training programs such as The Last Mile and who are hired upon their release from prison turn out to be loyal and effective workers, about the same ratio as the population overall. That keeps our communities safer. We are better off when the formerly incarcerated can contribute as workers, taxpayers, and law-abiding citizens,” he wrote in a recent op-ed. The Last Mile program, which was created in California in 2014, started at Indiana Women's Prisons in 2018, and so far 4 inmates have graduated from the program in Indiana.

Following the tour, Ross and Trump held the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board’s fourth meeting. The board is made up of high-profile executives such as Apple CEO Tim Cook, Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton, and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon. Cook, who was in attendance, spoke to other members about the importance of developing in-demand career skills for workers and coding specifically.

The board is also working on developing a nationwide inventory of unfilled jobs. “So that if you're a job seeker, you can identify, gee, if I'm willing to move 50 miles, 100 miles, I can really get the job I always wanted. So we're making the information better information, more available,” said Ross.

Over the past year, over 300 companies and organizations have committed to offer more than 12 million new training opportunities for students and workers over the next five years, according to the White House.

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