LAWRENCE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Recidivism is a dirty word in the world of incarceration.
It refers to how often a criminal re-offends once released from captivity.
In Lawrence County, Sheriff John Myers tells News 2 prisoners come back to jail after being released about 80 percent of the time.
Before his first term expired, the sheriff decided he wanted to change those stats by setting up a work release program for prisoners who are non violent and motivated to succeed on the outside.
Though he laid the ground work for the program months ago, the work release initiative began in earnest three weeks ago.
While there are many moving parts, the sheriff says the idea is simple – get prisoners a job while reacclimating them to society, all while keeping them from coming back to jail.
Sheriff Myers says, “I think that probably 80% of our jail population is second and third time offenders.”
So far, eight prisoners are taking part in the program, according to Sheriff Myers.
The non violent offenders are working in two local factories. Most are doing labor, learning to use tools and other equipment. Several of the prisoners have already learned to weld.
The sheriff says they are earning the same money that a comparable citizen would make. Sheriff Myers also says he has a brief conversation with each candidate before they enter this unique work force.
“Well the short version is, don’t screw up! You’ve been given a great opportunity to help yourself out, help your family out, help your community out. Don’t mess it up,” he said.
The sheriff said the program was something he pushed hard for during his campaign, but before it could be implemented, Sheriff Myers said he needed to secure a body scanner in the jail to search for contraband.
He also said he needed to secure the money for GPS ankle bracelets that each work release prisoner wears while out of the jail.
The sheriff is confident the program will work.
“I just had a conversation with a sheriff over in West Tennessee who has had the program up and running for some time. He has cut his recidivism in half,” he said.
According to Sheriff Myers, the inmates are paid the same as any other worker. Some of the money they earn pays for court costs and restitution. Some goes into their personal accounts.
However, much of the money the prisoners earn goes to pay for the work release program, including unannounced drug screens and GPS ankle bracelets that all participants must wear while on the job.
Sheriff Myers calls the work release program a great transition for many of the prisoners who didn’t get proper training in their early life.
“That’s absolutely right, and it gives them a chance when they get out of jail to never miss a day of work or miss a paycheck.”
If successful, the sheriff hopes to expand this program to more businesses and more prisoners.