Inmates Get Second Chance Through State Work Program

Posted at 6:06 PM, Dec 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-19 21:05:43-05

Employment is necessary to help keep former inmates stay out of prison but sometimes job opportunities are seldom, if not rarely available. 

In Tennessee, there are more than 20,000 inmates in prison with the likelihood 48% will return within three years, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. 

More than 650,000 inmates nationwide are released every year and about two-thirds of them go back, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. 

For years, the TDOC has partnered with many businesses across the state for a work release program. The goal is to help inmates build skills prior to their release and make them useful members of society. 

"They have the opportunity to come earn a paycheck and get those social and job placement skills," TDOC Spokesperson Alison Randgaard told NewsChannel 5. "This can help someone from offending again which makes all of our communities safer."

About 95% of prisoners will be released to society and are normally faced with lack of jobs and unsteady finances. 

"We always want to give people a second chance. You have to open up your heart and realize we all make mistakes in this life," Swett's Owner David Swett said. 

The well-known meat and three restaurant in Nashville has been providing job opportunities to offenders for about 16 years.

Swett has recently hired Debra Kelley, an employee who had been working at the restaurant for two years while serving the rest of her 16-year prison sentence. 

"It made me feel great, it made me feel like I accomplished something. I love this job, I love working here," Kelley told NewsChannel 5. 

The latest hire is another reason why officials say work release programs can be successful. In addition, to giving someone a second chance, the program is helping solve staffing issues. 

"You have no idea how hard it is for us to get a crew together," Swett said. "We had so many employment problems until we got with this program."

Currently, there are 30-40 inmates participating through an approved request or a counselor recommendation. In Nashville, about seven businesses including Swett's Restaurant are part of the program.