The Tennessee Office of Reentry, a division of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, kicked off Second Chance Month on April 1 with an event bringing together resources to support individuals transitioning to the community after incarceration.
Second Chance Month raises awareness of barriers facing formerly incarcerated individuals and efforts throughout the country to support them and reduce recidivism. Attending the event were individuals involved or formerly involved in the justice system along with dozens of stakeholder groups from the public and private sector, including state agencies, employers, and non-profit organizations.
Event speakers underlined the importance of removing barriers and creating opportunities for individuals reentering their communities, especially related to employment. Speakers included Gov. Bill Lee; state Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr.; Dr. Laura Ferguson-Mims, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI); Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord; and Robert Sherrill, chief executive officer of Imperial Cleaning Systems, Inc., RCS Holdings, LLC, and the DREAM Initiative.
Ferguson-Mims discussed the intersection of higher education and incarceration. She highlighted four key numbers: 95, 47, 48 and zero. She explained that 95% of individuals who are incarcerated will come home, but 47% will return to incarceration in three years without a different approach. However, she noted post-secondary education reduces the risk of recidivism by 48%, and zero individuals who completed a degree with THEI have returned to incarceration.
Keynote Speaker Robert Sherrill, the only person in history to receive a pardon from a governor and a president of the United States, spoke of the challenges he faced returning home and the untapped potential of returning individuals.
“We have a whole pool of people… willing and ready to get out and reenter society successfully. We just need an opportunity,” Sherrill said. “I don’t need to be the exception. I need to be the standard of what reentry looks like.”
The Office of Reentry held a similar event at the Shelby County Office of Reentry on April 8 in Memphis. Knoxville American Job Center will host an additional celebration and resource fair for the Office of Reentry on April 22.
These events represent Tennessee’s ongoing commitment to improving its justice system and implementing the provisions of its landmark 2021 reform legislation, Alternatives to Incarceration (SB767/HB784) and the Reentry Success Act (SB768/HB785). Funded by the Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI) helped state leaders analyze corrections data and develop policy and practice solutions which were ultimately reflected in these bills as part of the state’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative. CJI continues to provide ongoing technical assistance to Tennessee in its implementation process.
Gov. Lee created the Office of Reentry to support successful reentry as part of his comprehensive criminal justice reform agenda.
“We’re committed to providing Tennesseans reentering society with the tools they need to safely contribute to their communities and thrive in our workforce,” Gov. Lee said. “I commend the Office of Reentry for their meaningful work to strengthen public safety and look forward to participating in Second Chance Month.”
For more information on upcoming events, please visit the events calendar at the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development website: https://www.tn.gov/workforce/events