Bill Gibbons 550 x 650
Opinion | Helping ex-offenders become current employees

Bill Gibbons, Guest columnist Published 12:00 p.m. CT June 7, 2018

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland estimates there are approximately 15,000 job vacancies in the greater Memphis area, with about 9,000 paying $12 or more per hour. There are citizens in our community with the technical and life skills necessary to fill many of those jobs. Many of them just happen to be ex-offenders.

On Thursday, June 14, the Tennessee Department of Correction, the University of Memphis Public Safety Institute, and the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission will co-host a symposium to provide an opportunity for Memphis area employers to learn more about how they can tap into sources of skilled, qualified workers while at the same time expand opportunities for ex-offenders and create a pathway for their success in our community.

The Tennessee Department of Correction is placing major emphasis on education and training programs for individuals who are still incarcerated to help prepare them for work once they return home. At the symposium, Commissioner Tony Parker and other department officials will be sharing information about these programs.

For some 25 years, HopeWorks has been providing a holistic approach to help individuals break the cycle of crime and poverty. And through an arrangement with the Shelby County Division of Corrections and the support of Memphis business leader Brad Martin, Hope Works is now working with county-housed inmates through Hope2Hire. This effort is providing specific training in jobs for which there is a demand in our community.

Lifeline to Success has existed since 2009 and works with serious ex-offenders to help them become productive members of our community. Executive Director DeAndre Brown is an ex-offender himself and has a passion for helping other ex-offenders re-enter the community successfully.

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO Works) is a nationwide operation with a strong track record of successfully providing employment services to individuals returning to their communities from incarceration. CEO Works has a contract with Workforce Investment Network (WIN), a city agency, to provide transitional work for ex-offenders, with the goal of moving them into permanent employment.

Economic Opportunities Memphis (EcOp) helps move individuals in the Memphis community who have made some poor choices in the past to more purposeful, meaningful lives.

The Memphis Shelby County Office of Re-Entry is an umbrella entity funded by state, county, and city governments. It works to connect ex-offenders with needed services, such as those mentioned above.
The upcoming symposium offers Memphis area employers a chance to find out more about all of these local efforts and how to connect with them to consider job applicants who are ex-offenders.

With a growing economy, many companies are looking for skilled, reliable workers. The symposium is designed to help employers know how to reach ex-offenders for employment who have benefited from special training and skills development, as well as learn about tax benefits available to employers who hire ex-offenders.
Providing job training, life skills, and support programs for ex-offenders is a key part of the local Operation: Safe Community plan, the development of which was spearheaded by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. The commission is coordinating implementation of the plan, and the Public Safety Institute is charged with independently evaluating certain training efforts geared toward ex-offenders in the community, including some of the efforts mentioned above.

Given the labor shortage we are facing in many areas of our economy, considering qualified ex-offenders for employment is a good investment for many local businesses. In addition, it is an investment in individuals who, given a chance, can become productive citizens. Finally, it is an investment in our city that can result in fewer repeat offenders and, therefore, less crime.

For more information and to register for the upcoming symposium, visit the Public Safety Institute website at

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