By Elizabeth Fleming, CSG Justice Center
Staff and a program participant of the Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry (MTRR) Program in Franklin County, TN, a 2015 Second Chance Act Technology-Based Career Training grantee, recently offered insights to fellow grantees as part of the National Reentry Resource Center (NRRC) training event Engaging Local Employers in Promising Practices for Hiring People Who Have Criminal Records.
Scott Crago, a plant manager at JSP International, and Haley George, a quality auditor at JSP International and an MTRR graduate, discussed creating job opportunities for people returning home after incarceration. JSP International, a car-part manufacturing plant, has so far hired seven workers from the MTRR program. Crago—along with MTRR Director Christine Hopkins—also led a second presentation, A Sector Based Approach: Engaging Local Employers.
Crago spoke of his journey from initially feeling resistant to hiring people who had been in the Franklin County jail, where the MTRR program is offered, to fully embracing his company’s partnership with the program. It was attending a graduation ceremony that made him change his mind; he found hearing the graduate’s stories and seeing how much people wanted a chance to prove themselves inspiring, and said choosing to become a partner of MTRR, “was the best decision I’ve made.”
According to a recent spotlight on the program by the Philadelphia Inquirer, of the 61 people who have taken part in training and been released to date, only 16 have returned to jail—a 26-percent recidivism rate compared to the county’s overall rate of 80 percent. And only 10 percent of those who became employed through the program have subsequently been reincarcerated. During the grantee training, Hopkins claimed the key to this success lay in first asking employers where jobs needed to be filled; many empty positions in Franklin County were in automotive computer-machining and injection molding. The MTRR program then focused on training for those jobs, teaching participants skills “that [are] going to last a lifetime,” Hopkins said.
George (pictured right)—who has been employed with JSP for a little over a year—credited the reentry program with saving her life. Struggling with substance use after the death of her mother, she was sent to jail in 2015 on drug charges, losing custody of her two sons. She said Crago and Hopkins had faith in her from day one and “when you have someone that has faith in you it pushes you harder.” She left jail with a position as an injection molding technician and, with steady employment, was able to regain custody; she said the first place she went after being reunited with her children was to thank Crago and case manager Michelle Perkins for giving “110%” to her and “all of their clients [because they] make sure everyone is treated equally and loved.”
Now George says she is “chasing paychecks” rather than drugs, and her career is reaching new heights. Just two days before the NRRC training she received her first promotion.
For further information on hiring practices involving people reentering their communities after incarceration, visit Hiring People with Criminal Records: A Toolkit for Engaging Employers and the Business Community. Also see the Second Chance Act Grant Program and Second Chance Act Technology Career Training Grant Program pages for more information on SCA grantees.