Tennessee bill seeks to create CDL training program for inmates

April 12, 2022

Ryan Witkowski

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A proposed bill in Tennessee seeks to offer commercial driver’s license training to inmates nearing their release.

The Republican-sponsored bill, SB 2399, seeks to make a number of changes and addition to the state’s present laws regarding CDLs. One such addition would be the creation of a CDL training program for inmates.

If passed, the program would be a collaboration between the Tennessee Department of Corrections and the Tennessee Department of Safety. According to the bill’s summary, the program would be available to offenders who “may be suitable for careers in the transportation industry.”

 Success in other states

Sen. Paul Bailey, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said the success of similar CDL training programs is one of the reasons he has offered his support.

“We’ve seen other programs relative to reentry work with those coming out of the department of corrections,” Bailey told WREG News. “We felt that it was a natural fit for us to be able to work with the DOC for those that are reentering society to give them a pathway to be able to make a very good living by entering into the trucking industry.”

Similar CDL training programs, such as Michigan’s vocational village and Arizona’s second chance center, have been widely regarded as a success. Both states have expanded their respective programs since their inception. Current proposed legislation in Connecticut also aims to provide CDL training to incarcerated individuals.

DeAndre Brown, executive director of the Shelby County Office of Reentry, has a unique perspective. A former inmate himself, Brown has worked to help others create a better life for themselves after incarceration. He says he’s encouraged by the progress the proposed legislation would make.

“This issue is something that’s had bipartisan support for a long time. I’m encouraged and I’m glad to be in this space because America is really beginning to see individuals that are incarcerated as humans,” Brown said during an interview with WREG. “As long as we see everybody as a human being, and give them an opportunity, I believe we all have the opportunity to share in the American dream. I’m extremely encouraged.”

Combating recidivism through employment

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67.8% of released state prisoners were arrested for a new crime within three years, and 76.7% were arrested within five years. Additionally, inmates who found employment after their release were less likely to return to prison. While finding work after release can be critical to their success, Brown says that they’re working on more than job skills.

“What we’ve been working to do is to create value in individuals and to help them find a sense of self-worth,” Brown said. “One of the ways we’re doing that is by training them on hard skills which gives them the ability to reenter society in a positive way and earn a livable wage, in some cases higher than a livable wage, so they can create value in themselves and be a support for their family and loved ones.”

While combating recidivism is important, it is just one component to what Brown and others are looking to accomplish. Brown said that programs like the one proposed could have far reaching effects.

“When they come home, a lot of times they still have a little of that street credibility,” he said. “And if a person who is looking up to them, or someone they can mentor, sees them in a new way – because they still have that respect from when they left the community – we’re able then to have a new generation of individuals that have a desire to be different by using the example of the person who has returned home with a new hard skill.”

The proposed legislation, which passed the Tennessee House on April 11, will now head to the state Senate for consideration on April 13. LL

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