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Tennessee law aims to stop prison inmates from recommitting crimes

The new law will encourage corrections facilities to partner with local colleges and workforce development agencies to give inmates job skills

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A Tennessee law that takes effect on January 1 will encourage corrections facilities to partner with local educational institutions and workforce development agencies to create re-entry programs designed to reduce recidivism. 

While the recidivism rate in Shelby County remains lower than the state average, the Shelby County Jail is the highest populated jail in all of Tennessee. As of November, the jail is 83.9% full with 2,609 people locked up.

"If you want people to leave prison once and for all after the first time you have to treat them much differently from how we treat people who are in prison today," Josh Spickler, executive director of Just City said.

Spickler explained people often need resources, such as job skills and education, so they don't turn to crime. 

"People who study crime and criminal behavior will tell you that the vast majority of crime is a function of environment," Spickler said. It's not a function of someone who is a psychopath there are very few psychopaths so in order to correct behavior, in order to make sure it doesn't happen again we have to give people tools that they can use in the environment they live in to be healthy and to thrive." 

When people leave prison, Spickler said they often need things such as childcare, nutrition, and transportation to jobs so they can live better lives. 

"We have to give people the tools to function in society, to coexist legally, healthily, and prosperously and that means tools to work within the modern economy," Spickler said. "It means skills that are needed in our community, where people who are serving time from Memphis, who will come back to Memphis, and need skills that will apply in Memphis." 

However, he said communities should have the help they need before crime becomes an issue. 

"It's a monumental shift in the way we think and talk about it," Spickler said. "In terms of recidivism, it is a first step and that's it. It's just a step. We have to rethink and reconsider what all this means to us every day."