Project Return offers an opportunity for the formerly incarcerated get a second chance
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn (WDEF) – Project Return is a non profit organization that aims to help the formerly incarcerated gain access to opportunities that they may have otherwise been denied.”
Officials say that on any given day about 2,000 people are being released from state and federal prisons around the country. Here in Tennessee up to 15,000 will be freed into the community this year.
“People are released from prison too many times to nothing. They have the clothes on their back , no ID, a few dollars in their pockets , no place to go and no place to go to work. They need to get to work. That is the number one way that they can kick it off right,” says Bettie Kirkland, CEO of Project Return.
In 2021, the Project Return program participants had an 82% job acquisition rate and only a 13% recidivism rate, compared to state and national averages that exceed 50%.
“Just walk through our door and let us get started. The first thing we will do is work on the most critical needs like food, water and clothing. For folks who are able to find some housing or we are able to help them get into a shelter- we can help defray those costs. Most importantly we get started immediately with talking about job readiness so if someone gets out on a Friday, comes to us Monday morning we can employ them by that following Friday. On the other end of that we provide a full 12 months of support and wrap around services once someone gets employment with a company out here in the chattanooga area,” says Kirkland.
Project Return was originally based out of Nashville but has recently made the decision to expand to Chattanooga.
“We’re going to all the Tennessee penitentiary to meet people and so it makes sense that we would be in the city that they come home to. There’s a real recognition of the need for it and there is a very robust non profit community that we can lock arms with,” says Kirkland.
Because they believe in the mission of this organization, the Chattanooga Gas Company has made a $25,000 donation to help Project Return support and coach individuals through their transitions from incarceration to the community.
“The 12 month program that they run in Nashville it’s about 700 people a year. In Chattanooga they opened their doors on September 7th, the day after Labor Day, and the first class already has 60 people in it,” says Paul Leath, Regional Director of Chattanooga Gas Company.