Local effort works to keep ex-offenders from returning to jail

Project Proven helps people transition out of jail

Wisconsin has one of the lowest reincarceration rates in the U.S. Only about half of people released from jail or prison in the state returned within three years, according to a report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center. A La Crosse program called Project Proven, is focused on making the situation even better.

The Western Technical initiative is not only dedicated to keeping ex-offenders out of jail but helping them get GED certificates, starts careers and learn about personal finance.

In two years, the program has helped more than 350 people including one woman who said she is proof that Project Proven works.

If you were to meet her today, you’d never know that just a year and half earlier Kelly Knudtson was at the lowest point in her life.

“I was in jail for felony possession of narcotic drug charges,” Knudtson said.

The 26-year-old’s long history of drug and alcohol abuse caught up to her, and she was sentenced to a month in the La Crosse County Jail.

“It was really scary,” Knudtson said.

But the scariest part of jail wasn’t being locked away or having a criminal record, for Knudtson, it was losing the right to hold her daughter.

“Let me tell you the worst thing is having to watch your child through a TV screen and not being able to touch her,” Knudtson said.

She decided to use her time behind bars to ensure she would never end up there again. She began taking Western Technical’s Project Prove” classes, learning how to write a resume, and set career goals, among other things.

“It was nice to just sit down with somebody and write down the things that I wish I could do or wanted to do,” Knudtson said.

“Students are able to go to the jail and work on soft skills and take classes in the jail and then continue them outside of the jail,” said Mandy Church-Hoffman, an associate dean of learner and support transition at Western Technical.

The tools and confidence Knudtson gained through Project Proven have helped her transform into a better mother.

“I’m already about to have an early release of probation and parole, I just got complete sole custody of my daughter,” Knudtson said.

The skills she learned have helped turn her into a solid employee at Western Technical’s human resources department.

“She’s working with confidential information, and she’s very trust worthy,” said co-worker Heather Marx.

Next month she will start work on another big goal: graduating college. Knudtson will study social work so she can help people in a way similar to the way Project Proven helped her.

“I’ve done really well and I just want to help people like myself,” Knudtson said.

Western Technical is working to expand the program to Mauston, Tomah and Black River Falls, where it currently has campuses.