To many people, the relationship between crime and employment is a matter of common sense. However, research tells a more complicated story. Those who remain crime free after prison, in general, have more positive attitudes about employment, get along better with their coworkers, and are more receptive to supervision than their re-offending peers. However, these qualities are not developed as a result of employment. They must be in place first.

Punchy slogans like “better off working” and “nothing stops a bullet like a job” are quick to engage the popular imagination – however, evidence about what really works points in a different direction. Programming has to follow the research — providing the right service, in the right amount, at the right time, and in the right way. This includes helping former offenders to develop healthy thinking patterns, meaningful work trajectories, effective coping strategies, positive social engagement, and positive interpersonal relationships. And to do this effectively, it requires that they develop clarity about their deepest values and the habit of finding meaning in the moment.

Our framework is based on 31 years of experience assisting former offenders to enter the workforce, mounting evidence about what drives crime, and nearly a century of research on the common factors impacting change efforts in counseling and training programs. It includes:

Stephen’s Table

Through our Stephen’s Table program, volunteers establish early contact with Tennessee prisoners from Hamilton County – both developing the pipeline of participants and acting on research that demonstrates that preserving social bonds between prisoners and their hometown reduces recidivism (Phase I).

Nexus

As prisoners enter their final 6 months of incarceration, the relationship established by volunteers is transferred to a professional team which includes a case manager, peer specialist, and parole or probation officer to develop a release plan (Phase II).

Pathways

Participants are released to a combination of case management services to address external influences and training programs which directly address five criminogenic factors – namely, antisocial cognition, antisocial companions, substance abuse, lack of employment, and antisocial recreation (Phase III).

CEI Works

When they are work-ready, participants are either referred to unsubsidized employment opportunities with participating employers or they begin remunerative work training assignments with Chattanooga Endeavors.  Alternatively, they may enroll in college. Remunerative work training assignments are managed to match the level of services with the level of risk in order to transition participants to the traditional job market in the safest and most efficient way possible (Phase VI).

Peer Specialists

Peer specialists reinforce programming through informal support and accountability and assist participants with their case management goals in ways that are impracticable for regular staff. We have combined what we know about recruiting, screening, developing, and collaborating with former offenders as staff members, mentors, and volunteers to create an internal training and certification program for peer specialists who are also certified by the state as either a substance abuse or mental health peer specialist.

After participants either obtain full time employment or opt for full time education, services are reduced to periodic tracking by case managers and informal support by peer specialists for up to nine years (Phase V).

 Note: Except for Stephen’s Table which is operational, the elements of our reentry model listed above are awaiting funding for full implementation. To help out or to learn more, please reach out to us at