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Posted on: April 7, 2022

Mayor Lee Harris' Update: A Second Chance is Good for Ex-Offenders and Shelby County

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April is Second Chance Month. Enacted by President Joe Biden in 2021, the President's idea is to focus on policies and programs that aid in crime prevention, reduce recidivism, and expand opportunities so that individuals with a criminal history can rejoin the community as productive citizens. That's exactly what we plan to do in Shelby County Government. If we can help more individuals with a criminal history succeed, it reduces taxpayer dollars spent on the criminal justice system, and it helps us to get to the root causes of crime. This is also how we live up to the requirements of so many of our faith traditions. We believe in redemption. We believe in giving a second chance.

That’s why early in my administration we pushed so hard for the Shelby County Commission to pass our “Ban the Box” ordinance. Our Ban the Box ordinance removed from Shelby County job applications the dreaded box that asks if a potential new hire has a criminal history. For too many job applicants, checking that box instantly takes them out of the running for almost any job. Too often, it doesn't matter how long ago their offense occurred or the job applicant’s qualifications. Well over 150 cities and counties, along with 37 states have enacted Ban the Box regulations. We’re proud to be among that number. We are hopeful we will set an example that more public and private employers will follow.

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Inmates in Division of Corrections custody are taking advantage of training and work opportunities as they prepare to reenter society after incarceration.

We’re also laser-focused on creating more employment opportunities for those with criminal histories. Studies show that one of the best ways to help people turn away from criminal activity is through employment. The Shelby County Office of Re-entry, under our administration, has instituted a vocational training program at our campus in South Memphis, in addition to vocational programming that we have built from scratch for inmates at the penal farm. All this effort means that we are able to provide training and skills in small engine repair, janitorial services, barbering, and the care of natural Black hair.

Along with our vocational and skills training initiatives, we’ve also doubled the capacity of our Mental Health Court. We have increased the number of people we can help with counseling and other resources from 50 to at least 100. Mental Health Court balances the obligations of the criminal justice system with our obligation to help those living with a severe mental illness. We know that participants in mental health courts have lower recidivism rates than individuals who go through the traditional criminal court process. Getting help for offenders with mental illnesses can move them out of the criminal justice system and into productive lives.

Our duty to offer second chances is even greater for young people who have lost their way and become involved in the criminal justice system. We have installed more youth counselors at Memphis police precincts, set up an after-school reporting center for teenagers, and established the Youth & Family Resource Center in Raleigh to expand the number of counseling supports for young people and their families.

In his proclamation last year on Second Chance Month, President Biden called on us to lift up those who have made mistakes but are committed to rejoining society. That’s exactly what Shelby County Government plans to do.

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