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The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –
A year old state office created by Governor Bill Lee to address recidivism rates in Tennessee is aligning itself with a new equity movement that says “justice-involved” gay and transgender people need more resources than other formerly incarcerated individuals in order for them to successfully reenter society.
In a Twitter post from last week, the Tennessee Office of Reentry thanked Ms. Danait Issac from Vanderbilt University for including them in the first part of a study on reentry efforts for formerly incarcerated members of the LGBTQ+ population in Tennessee, linking to the study and including a nod to Pride month.
According to the Tennessee Office of Reentry’s website a “justice involved individual” is a term that refers to “anyone who has had interactions with the criminal justice system as a defendant.” This means felons, convicts, criminals, offenders or parolees. The new office states that they are using the term because it is “person-centric” as they do not wish to use any terms that “solely define a person by their past.”
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Last year, Tennessee’s recidivism rate was approximately 46%, meaning that nearly half of everyone released from incarceration is estimated to return within the next three years. The process of reentering society is blamed as a major contributing factor. Governor Lee’s vision of improving statewide reentry efforts led to the creation of the Tennessee Office of Reentry last June.
According to Issac, who quoted from Prison Policy Initiative 2021, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are incarcerated at nearly three times the rate compared to the general population. Transgender people are also incarcerated at disproportionate rates with Black transgender women incarcerated at approximately ten times the rate of the general population. Issac says that LGBTQ+ people face unique challenges re-entering society after incarceration, and re-entry programs often lack the adequate resources to address their needs.
“Providing the same or “equal” re-entry resources and opportunities for LGBTQ+ people as the general population is not enough to ensure a healthy re-entry,” says Issac. “Instead, a more equitable system would recognize that formerly incarcerated LGBTQ+ people face unique barriers and would allocate the exact resources they need to reach an equal outcome.”
As part of her study, Issac evaluated Tennessee’s overall LGBTQ policy climate and ranked it as negative (-6 out of 42.5) due to “35 anti-LGBTQ laws and policies.” Nashville, which is far more liberal than surrounding counties, was ranked the most LGBTQ+ inclusive city in Tennessee despite “only one reentry program specifically serving the LGBTQ+ community.”
Issac interviewed three people who work with either LGBTQ+ individuals, previously incarcerated individuals or a combination of both and then provided recommendations and action steps for reentry programs to better serve gay and transgender people leaving jail or prison and prevent recidivism in this specific population.
Recommendations for all reentry programs including the state funded Tennessee Office of Reentry are as follows:
• LGBTQ+ cultural competency training.
• Resource guides listing LGBTQ+ specific resources and organizations.
• Creating LGBTQ+ specific programs, spaces, and partnerships.
• Partnering with LGBTQ+ organizations like SONG (who openly oppose Christian conservatives) to develop LGBTQ+ affirming re-entry resources.
• Implementing housing/employment vetting processes that verify that the client’s new home and work environments are LGBTQ+ inclusive.
The Tennessee Office of Reentry expressed that they were open and willing to learn how to better support “justice involved” LGBTQ+ individuals, including learning more about these individuals needs and terminology specific to them.
About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at email@example.com.