Workhouse group ponders job re-entry
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Jun 06, 2013 | 863 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ways to help those with criminal records find jobs was the topic of discussion for the Bradley County Workhouse Committee Wednesday.

In the past some members have expressed concern that nonviolent offenders who may otherwise qualify for the program would not be able to find work.

The committee heard from Christine Hopkins and Amy Smith of the Franklin County Community Reentry program. The Winchester program works with inmates in the areas of education and job training, and also helps released prisoners find jobs.

Smith said the keys to having employers willing to hire people from the program are building trust and being persistant.

The Franklin County Community Reentry program began within the county’s sheriff’s department.

“We were actually the first rural re-entry program in the state of Tennessee,” Hopkins said of the FCCR.

Since then the program has been able to secure several federal grants, providing funding for its expansion. It is currently seeking 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

While the jail in Franklin County has a repeat offender rate of 75 to 80 percent, the re-entry program has a repeat offender rate of 35 percent over the past two years.

Hopkins said the FCCR provides “extensive job readiness,” from how to fill out an application to how to dress for work. Emphasis is also placed on interview skills.

“That first week is so critical. If they leave that jail with no hopes of employment, they are going to be back,” Hopkins said.

She said the FCCR has been able to partner with companies that she never thought would hire someone with a criminal record.

Smith said an employer’s human resource office needs to understand the program in order to feel comfortable giving someone with a criminal record a chance.

She said it was also important to know the clients well enough to know what jobs would be a good fit.

“You have to be very careful who you place where, because once you burn a bridge it is very hard to rebuild that bridge,” Smith said.

Smith said she has been working with placement for the past year, and has had three placements that did not work out. The Franklin County Community Reentry program works with more than 100 inmates and recently released offenders each year.

Preparing someone for the workforce before they get out of jail is key, Smith said.

Staff of the FCCR also keep up with those who have gone through its classes. Smith said she calls clients to make sure they are looking for a job.

Hopkins said they stay in contact with clients for a year after they are released.

Also during the meeting, Bradley County Probation director Rich Kienlen presented a letter from the judge that handles child support cases in support of the work house program.

The committee is planning a trip for next week to a building similar to the one previously discussed to lease or purchase for the work house.

Kienlen said this would give the committee a better idea of what utility costs would be for the facility. The director of the facility will also be offering answers to other questions about operations.