We are striving for a day when all Chattanooga area residents who are serving time in state or federal prison and the loved ones whom they have left behind: (a) receive the hometown support they need to make the most out of their experience with the criminal justice system and (b) receive the community services they need to rebuild their lives and to meet their social and family responsibilities.
Stephen’s Table provides a highly advantageous first point of contact with former offenders. Through a partnership with the Department of Corrections, we are able to identify men and women who are from the Chattanooga area and who have just started their prison terms. All are invited. And those who accept are paired with teams of trained volunteers in religious and civic organizations in their home town. This enables us to take advantage of their entire period of incarceration (4 ½ years on the average) to prepare them for release — rather than waiting until they home as most programs do.
Helping men and women who have been in prison find jobs in the community has been our corner of the market since 1996 when we piloted an innovative approach to offender employment under a Department of Labor grant. This program was evaluated by the National Institute of Justice and quickly became a national model for mid-size cities struggling to manage rapidly expanding reentry populations.
Our model for removing obstacles to employment for former offenders, preparing them for success on the job, and introducing them to employers through remunerative work training assignments creates real second chances — not mere lip service. It is a practical approach which improves public safety while minimizing the cost to funders by charging employers for our service.