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Tennessee providing employment, legal aid resources as part of Second Chance Month

Tennessee Office of Reentry

Tennessee groups and agencies are collaborating throughout April to help formerly incarcerated people and justice-involved individuals — a term some agencies use to describe anyone who has ever been charged with a crime — find jobs and get legal aid.

An upcoming event planned in western Tennessee is aimed at providing employment services to people who have encountered difficulties finding jobs because of the stigma that experts say comes with a criminal record. This event is a part of National Second Chance Month, which has been recognized annually every April since 2017 and serves to highlight the roles of individuals, communities and agencies in supporting formerly incarcerated people.

To support justice-involved individuals, Tennessee’s Office of Reentry (OOR) scheduled multiple Second Chance Hiring and Resource events throughout the state.

The last of the three resource fairs will be at the Clarksville American Job Center on Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“An event like this one helps address these barriers and more by bringing together not only employers but also local and state supportive services,” Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development Chief Communications Officer Chris Cannon said. “The Office of Reentry hopes that these events will also allow conversations and connections to happen between stakeholders in the reentry field to further their effectiveness.”

Cannon said justice-involved individuals can face several barriers to getting jobs, including discrimination due to a previous criminal history, lack of education or job training opportunities, financial barriers, physical or mental health issues and legal restrictions.

At the event, attendees will have a chance to meet prospective employers and connect with community resources and consult with legal aid services about record expungement.

One group that will be represented at Friday’s resource fair is the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, which provides Tennesseeans in need with access to civil legal services. This month, that group is celebrating Help4TNMonth and has set this year’s theme to coincide with National Second Chance Month by focusing on cleaning up criminal records and helping some justice-involved people get a clean slate.

Anne-Louise Wirthlin is an assistant director at the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts and the director of Tennessee’s Access to Justice. She said expungement — a process that essentially erases a person’s criminal charge or, in some cases, a conviction, from their criminal record — is not an automatic process in Tennessee. For some, this means that although they were never convicted of a crime, some previous criminal charges can pop up in criminal background checks conducted as part of job or housing applications.

“I think a lot of folks, especially if it was not prosecuted, they maybe never went to court. And so [they ask] ‘why was this showing up on my record, nothing ever happened?’ Or ‘I did go to court, but…you know, it was acquitted. So why is this showing up on my record?’” Wirthlin said.

One area the Access to Justice Commission focuses on is helping people through this process via expungement clinics, guiding eligible Tennesseeans through the necessary paperwork and steps needed in order to get a previous charge taken off their criminal record. The group will be offering an expungement clinic at Friday’s resource fair in Clarksville.

The commission also provides expungement clinics and other civil legal advice throughout Tennessee with the TN Justice Bus, a mobile law office that brings technology and legal resources to communities across the state. The Justice Bus will be on site at the Clarksville event.

Hannah Saad is the Assistant News Director for WKMS. Originally from Michigan, Hannah earned her bachelor’s degree in news media from The University of Alabama in 2021. Hannah moved to western Kentucky in the summer of 2021 to start the next chapter of her life after graduation. Prior to joining WKMS in March 2023, Hannah was a news reporter at The Paducah Sun. Her goal at WKMS is to share the stories of the region from those who call it home. Outside of work, Hannah enjoys exploring local restaurants, sports photography, painting, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.
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