There are about 1,100 inmates at the Shelby County Correctional Center, where the average stay is from two to four years and where every one of those inmates will at some point be released.
That’s a fact for roughly 95% of inmates in all U.S. prisons.
I believe while those inmates are in Shelby County’s custody, we have a responsibility to give them every tool available so they do not re-offend and are not re-incarcerated.
Statistically, one of the best ways to keep ex-offenders out of prison is to keep them employed. Last summer, my administration successfully passed our Ban the Box ordinance that created a new countywide policy to eliminate inquiries into criminal history for most Shelby County Government employment applications.
That was a significant start, but we can do more.
Last week my team visited the Turnery Center Industrial Complex in Hickman County, where about 150 inmates work real jobs, earn a living wage, and will leave prison with skills that make them employable.
Those inmates are part of the Prison Industry Enhancement Program.
Through the federal PIE program, businesses work with local governments to bring jobs inside the facilities. The inmates are trained and are paid the local prevailing wage for their work, which is determined by the state of Tennessee.
If a job pays $15 an hour on the outside, it would pay $15 an hour on the inside. And if a business has 300 workers at a facility in the community, they can’t lay off employees to shift that work to the prison population.
Those PIE program participants automatically have 10% of their pay put in a savings account so when they’re released they have money to relaunch their lives. While they’re in prison, they send money home for gifts or just to help out, which gives them a sense of dignity and a way to be present in their families’ lives.
And they pay into victims’ services programs, so the community is getting a benefit from it as well.
Turnery Center officials cited a PIE program participant who now has a job in Indiana as a plant manager and makes about $60,000 a year.
Here, we hope to launch our program once a business partner is identified.
Like Ban the Box, money can’t be the only reason we do all we can to help prevent recidivism.
Our faith traditions promise redemption and it is critical that we live up to that principle.
Finding ways to send inmates out into the world prepared to be productive citizens is an obligation.
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