New Tennessee Law Helps Ex-Offenders Secure Employment Upon Release

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By Camm Ashford

A new law that took effect in Tennessee on Jan. 1 aims to provide soon-to-be-released prison inmates with the documents they need to secure employment upon their release.

“It is time we foster a criminal justice system that is equitable, just, and focused on rehabilitation,” said District 9 City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.

The Assisting Inmates in Post-Release Employment (SB0814) law mandates that the Tennessee Department of Correction provide any inmate who is released after serving time for a felony offense with the relevant documentation to assist them in obtaining employment.

This includes copies of their vocational training record, work record, birth certificate, and social security card, as well as notification of their eligibility to apply for occupational licenses or certifications.

The bill requires the process of gathering required documentation to begin nine months before an inmate’s release. It also authorizes the department to use any available funds, including inmate trust funds, existing funds, or donations, to cover the costs associated with the purchase of photo identification licenses.

The law is a significant step forward in helping ex-offenders successfully reintegrate into society. Nearly 15,000 people are released from Tennessee penitentiaries each year, and many struggle to find work and readjust to life outside of prison.

A recent study estimated that nearly one out of six Black men are currently in prison, on parole, or formerly incarcerated. A new law that took effect in Tennessee on Jan. 1 will help break down barriers former inmates face when they get out of prison.

The transition from prison back to the community is fraught with challenges, and the search for employment is one of many tasks that can derail successful reentry. The intersection of race and criminal history can be doubly disadvantageous, as formerly incarcerated people of color often face additional barriers to employment.

“Providing photo identification to newly released inmates is a practical step that can significantly contribute to successful reintegration, reduce strain on social services, and promote safer and more inclusive communities,” said District 9 City Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod.

Councilwoman Coonrod, who is open about her past as a convicted felon, has become an advocate for police reform and crime victims’ rights. She recently published a book about her incarceration called Prison to Purpose: A Past That Shaped My Future. “By facilitating employment for newly released individuals, there’s a positive impact on the economy,” Councilwoman Coonrod noted. “Employed individuals contribute to the economy and are less likely to require assistance from social services.”