By Karen Stokes
For the first time ever, the Milwaukee County House of Correction (HOC) is offering free financial literacy classes to incarcerated individuals who have committed a misdemeanor.
“We have a partnership with Chase Bank; it’s geared to have people understand finances and how to navigate finances to impact their future,” said Superintendent Chantell Jewell. “Milwaukee County has a bold vision, by achieving racial equity we think Milwaukee County will be the healthiest county in Wisconsin.”
When discussing health, financial health is imperative. According to Experian, 34.8% of American consumers have subprime credit scores.
Chase community manager, Jerry Johnson has been going to the HOC twice a month to teach a variety of financial health topics.
“The purpose of the program is to move from what you know or how much you know to taking it into action to become financially fit,” Johnson said.
Each two and a half hour session is designed to build upon the next and covers a series of financial health topics from understanding credit, applying for credit, borrowing basics to creating a spending plan and how to protect yourself from identity theft.
“Their personal financial journey is another piece that we offer to try to get to the root of some of the practices they have done in the past that had not gotten the results that they desired,” Johnson said.
The HOC residents involved in the Financial Literacy program are currently in a work release program.
“It’s a constant evolving of residents as we begin a series, maybe starting with credit and then working through different accounts,” Johnson said. “Individuals are at different stages, some may understand checking accounts, some don’t even have a checking account.”
According to Bank on Greater Milwaukee, nearly 11% of Milwaukee residents are unbanked. Over 50 million adults are underbanked nationwide, relying on some fringe financial services.
Understanding bank accounts is essential so as not to rely on check cashing places or payday lending stores that sometimes employ unfair, deceptive and abusive debt collection practices and can be costly. Budget and spending planning is important to understand and protect your money.
“A budget or a spending plan is you telling your money where to go instead of you wondering where it went,” Johnson said.
“I’ve been extremely humbled by the overwhelming response,” said Johnson. “When the House of Correction residents leave the sessions, they are talking about it to others.”
“The response is overwhelming. I’ve heard not only are the residents very interested, they are passing the information to the community and their families,” Jewell said. “Having connections post-release is one of our goals.”
According to Johnson, not only are they learning the information, they are taking advantage of connecting to the resources that help change some of the behaviors they had previously.
“At Chase we are in the community, financial health has become a foundational practice of who we are,” Johnson said.