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Posted on: September 16, 2021

Mayor Lee Harris' Update on Reducing Recidivism One Haircut at a Time

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Studies show when an ex-offender has the ability to earn a decent living, they are less likely to break the law and return to prison. A new barber training program for inmates with the Shelby County Division of Corrections aims to provide the skills necessary to find meaningful employment in a growing field. Our hope is to release inmates with the training they’ll need to earn a living, take care of themselves and their families, and even start their own business.

Since June, every inmate at the facility has had their hair cut at least twice by one of the inmates currently enrolled in the barber school program. We’re in the process of expanding the teaching staff, which will allow us to double the number of students. By doing this we hope to change even more lives as we work to break the cycle of recidivism. Barbering, we have found, is ex-offender friendly. In fact, the current instructor is an ex-offender. The participants are students of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology and are enrolled in a 1,500-hour program. Fees and supplies are paid for by our partner Workforce Mid-South. We have also brought in partners from HOPE Credit Union to provide guidance on money management and the Greater Memphis Financial Empowerment Center to instruct on how to open a business.

In addition to business and barbering, this program includes classes on soft skills, job readiness, mental health counseling, and guidance on reconnecting with family. After completing the program and upon their release, there are grant funds to cover the costs of state tests and licenses. This, along with the fact that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 19 percent for barbers through 2030, sets these students up for success.

Inmate Barbershop

This is our latest program aimed at lowering the recidivism rate by helping inmates find work after their release. Earlier this year we announced another new program that operates in conjunction with local outlets of national retail companies. Through that initiative, inmates learn valuable, transferable skills that can help them land a job in our community's distribution industry.

Our work does not end when inmates leave county custody. At the Shelby County Office of Reentry, located at 1362 Mississippi Blvd., ex-offenders connect with resources and employers. They can access technical and vocational training for small engine repair, construction, low voltage electrical apprenticeships, and forklift operation. In addition to Workforce Mid-South and HOPE Credit Union, Office of Reentry partners include HopeWorks and the University of Memphis.

I believe it is our responsibility to help prepare those in Shelby County's custody to return to society. These programs further our objectives to send men and women back into the world better equipped to secure gainful employment, to employ themselves, and possibly others. This training will put money in their pockets after prison, it will give them greater self-esteem, and it will give them hope.


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