Roughly 95% of all inmates nationwide will return to their communities, a fact that's true for the inmates in custody with the Shelby County Division of Corrections, where the average stay is from two to four years.
I believe while those inmates are in Shelby County’s custody, we have a responsibility to provide them with more tools to help reduce the risk that they will re-offend and are re-incarcerated.
Statistically, one of the best ways to keep ex-offenders out of prison is to provide meaningful employment. 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 have not stopped there.
A few weeks ago, our administration launched a new program through the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR), a state agency for prison employment. Inmates at the Correctional Center now work for several national retail companies with local operations to learn valuable, transferable skills that can be used to land a job in our community's distribution industry after their release.
While our program is primarily about work, it uses a holistic approach to address other issues that might impact a person's ability to stay out of the criminal justice system. There are classes in anger management, parenting, resume writing, and ongoing efforts to boost morale and encourage change. After their release, they are assigned a mentor, given help finding a job, and other re-entry services.
In the coming weeks we plan to hold an event to celebrate our first class and their rousing success.
Also, we will continue to expand this approach in the future. In fact, another job skills program, known as the Prison Industry Enhancement Program, (PIE) can do just that.
Through the federal PIE program, businesses work with prisons to bring jobs inside the facilities. The inmates are trained and are paid the local prevailing wage for their work.
My team visited the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Hickman County to learn about the PIE program at that facility. We observed about 150 inmates work real jobs, earn a living wage, and prepare to leave prison with skills that make them employable.
We hope to launch our own PIE program in Shelby County soon, and we plan to keep focusing on work and jobs as part of our public safety strategy.
Finding ways to send inmates out into the world better prepared to work and participate in the community can change the trajectory of lives and help break the cycle.
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