Inmates participate in job fair

SPRINGFIELD, S.D. (AP) — About 150 inmates at South Dakota’s prison in Springfield took the opportunity to prepare for life after prison at a job fair this week.

Ernesto DiFabio was among the men who met with roughly 20 employers at Mike Durfee State Prison on April 29, the Argus Leader reported.

DiFabio, who graduated from the prison’s automotive vocational program, earned an Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification while behind bars. Through the program, he learned how to change a car’s oil and replace vehicle parts.

DiFabio said he can’t wait to earn a paycheck. He’s scheduled to be released in about two months, and already has an interview scheduled.

Monica Wepking, the prison’s workforce development instructor, said more than 90% of vocational program graduates find a job after being released.

The prison offers vocational programs in welding, auto body, auto mechanic and construction technology, as well as plumbing and electrical apprenticeships.

Inmates in the automotive program, like DiFabio, help repair and maintain state fleet vehicles. Those in the construction technology program build cabins and ticket booths for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The welding program makes picnic tables and uses scrap metal to build dog houses, which are then donated to nonprofits.

Roughly 8% of the program graduates return to prison, which is well below the general prison population’s recidivism rate of 30%, Wepking said.

“Any time you help someone become educated and then trained, it’s going to help them in life,” Wepking said. “That’s what we strive for.”

Wendy Sommervold, a human resources manager for manufacturing company Masaba in Vermillion, visited the medium-security prison for the job fair this week. She said she also attended the job fair last year, and hired an inmate to work on the assembly line.

“Everybody should get a second chance,” she said. “These guys can get the skill set we’re looking for.”