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Project Return Helps Former Inmates Find Jobs

The Tennessee-based initiative expanded into the Chattanooga Region in 2021 and helps the formerly incarcerated create opportunities in the community. 

By Kim Madlom on August 30, 2022

Contractors from Project Return in the Greater Chattanooga, TN area.
Project Return

Nearly 15,000 people are released from Tennessee penitentiaries each year. Project Return is dedicated to helping the formerly incarcerated successfully transition back into communities and work.

Founded in Nashville in 1979, Project Return expanded to Chattanooga in 2021. The nonprofit program provides the resources and services, including employment training and networking, social enterprises, education and coaching programs, transportation support, affordable housing, and prison in-reach programs to prepare prospects for a new life upon release.

And it works. In its 2022 spring newsletter, Project Return Chattanooga highlights Mark and Dustin, former inmates who participated in Project Return’s Opportunity for Employment (PROe), the organization’s high-quality staffing company. Those temporary placements allowed Mark and Dustin to gain work experience, build references and demonstrate reliability. As a result, the men are now employed full-time for a growing construction company in the region.

Often, former inmates struggle to find work and readjust to life outside of prison. Tennessee Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism reports that nearly half of those released from jail in the state are back behind bars within three years. Project Return works to reduce that recidivism and meet employers’ needs.

“Their programs break the cycle of incarceration, strengthen our workforce and give men and women across our state a chance to thrive.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee

Project Return has built a record of success with nearly 1,500 job placements as of 2020.

The expansion into Chattanooga was supported by a state grant and donations from the Unum and Chattanooga Gas foundations.

Governor Bill Lee is a supporter of the program. Before running for office, Lee participated in a prison ministry that paired inmates with mentors.

“For years, Project Return has given formerly incarcerated Tennesseans the tools and resources to ensure a successful transition back into the community,” the governor says. “Their programs break the cycle of incarceration, strengthen our workforce and give men and women across our state a chance to thrive.”

If you’d like to learn more about the Greater Chattanooga area, check out the latest edition of Chattanooga Region Economic Development.

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