A trainer stands in front of the Tennessee state flag and presents to a large room of people seated at round tables

Employment is critical to reentry, but a job is just one piece of the puzzle.” — CJI Director of Justice Initiatives Barbara Pierce

Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) staff trained dozens of career counselors in Tennessee to better help formerly incarcerated individuals overcome barriers and access resources for finding employment, housing, and education as part of the state’s observance of Second Chance Month.

CJI’s Director of Justice Initiatives Barbara Pierce and Senior Policy Specialist Abby Strait presented at the Second Chances Training Summit on April 29. Sponsored by the Tennessee Office of Reentry at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the summit brought together approximately 70 staff from American Job Centers across the state and the Office of Reentry.

The goal of the summit was to equip staff with knowledge and skills to better support justice-involved individuals who are reentering the community, and it included a reentry simulation, employer roundtable, and speakers on a variety of topics including trauma informed care, federal bonding, and the Behavioral Health Safety Net.

Tennessee’s extensive network of American Job Centers provides workforce services, such as career counseling and mentoring, trainings and workshops, and connections to services to Tennesseans in all 95 counties.

We have an obligation to help justice-involved people succeed.” — Dr. William Arnold, director of the Office of Reentry.

CJI’s training, entitled Reentry Planning: A Primer, explored how to identify reentry needs, navigate obstacles, and respond to challenging situations. It discussed common and interconnected barriers in areas like physical and behavioral health needs, education, employment, and housing, as well as strategies for overcoming them. The training also included an opportunity for participants to apply their understanding of reentry challenges and practice new skills by exploring possible scenarios they might face.

“Employment is critical to reentry, but a job is just one piece of the puzzle,” Pierce said. “We are pleased to see Tennessee address this head on and arm the American Job Center reentry advisors to take a holistic approach and connect people to resources to meet many of their other reentry needs.”

The summit was the culmination of a series of events sponsored by the Office of Reentry commemorating April as Second Chance Month, which raises awareness of barriers facing formerly incarcerated individuals and efforts throughout the country to support them and reduce recidivism.

Gov. Bill Lee created the Office of Reentry following passage of Tennessee’s landmark 2021 legislation, Alternatives to Incarceration (SB767/HB784) and the Reentry Success Act (SB768/HB785), as part of his comprehensive criminal justice reform agenda. CJI, funded by the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), helped state leaders develop policy and practice solutions that were ultimately reflected in these bills. CJI also provides ongoing technical assistance to Tennessee in its implementation of these bills.

“We have an obligation to help justice-involved people succeed,” said Dr. William Arnold, director of the Office of Reentry. “This Second Chances Training Summit — the first of its kind in our state — allowed us to share ideas, create structures, and provide tools for our Reentry Advisors in American Job Centers statewide.”