I started my professional career as an educator of chemistry and math to middle school children. I was afforded the opportunity to become an Educator in the Carceral system and then as an Administrator for the State of Tennessee’s Department of Labor. I saw first hand that an investment in 2nd Chances affords opportunity. Justice-impacted individuals can be viewed from a new lens – one that provides them with an opportunity to see themselves differently and for society to view them as individuals who can contribute to closing the employment gap.
As the Assistant Administrator for the Adult Education Division at the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD), I have dedicated my career to empowering individuals through education. At TDLWD, we recognize the importance of innovative solutions to empower justice-impacted individuals. Our goal is to improve adult education outcomes, build prosperous communities, and enhance the lives of our constituents through education and skill-building.
I began my career in adult education as a way to supplement my income as a K-12 school counselor. I taught social-emotional learning by day and high school equivalency class at night in our local jail. I was blown away by the intelligence, the grit, and the overall perseverance of my students—my guys in the local jail. I saw the dichotomy of incarceration—the children of incarcerated parents were struggling to make progress in the K-12 classroom because they were scarred by the reality of having a parent behind the wall and the sadness of parents separated from their children due to poor choices and living in survival mode.
“I knew I found my passion to help make the connection between the two pursuing opportunities to give these men and women all they needed to be successful outside of carceral facilities.” L. Newson
The men I taught were looking for an opportunity to show themselves and their families that they could do something they were told they would never accomplish—earn a high school education.
Tennessee is unique in that it is the first and only state in the nation to have an office of reentry under the State’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development rather than the Department of Corrections. While this approach may not be conventional, it’s a common sense approach to addressing the high rate of recidivism plagued by our nation.
And the numbers don’t lie. Only 17% of justice-impacted individuals have access to education while incarcerated. However, 95% of people return to their communities upon release. With a living-wage career, the rate of return to incarceration drops to just 4%. This highlights the importance of preparing individuals for success while under our state’s supervision.
That is why we partnered with APDS in 2021 through a pilot education technology program for 72 justice-impacted learners in three Tennessee site counties: Grundy, Gibson, and Blount. The program was a resounding success, which led to the deployment of APDS technology devices and programs to approximately 8,000 learners across every jail in all Tennessee counties.
This initiative has impacted the lives of so many justice-impacted learners, and I am incredibly proud to be a part of this movement. With APDS tablets and programming, justice-impacted individuals throughout Tennessee have access to educational resources and training programs that can help them build the skills they need to succeed, including advanced level education, rehabilitation, and specialized training/certification offerings in industry-leading skills. This approach helps to ensure that justice-impacted individuals are fully prepared to succeed in the workforce and in their communities.
Our work with APDS and our commitment to education and training in corrections is a common sense approach to successful reentry. We are proud of our work and will continue to invest in education and training to help all individuals reach their full potential.