Just a year after a local program opened its doors to help women leaving the prison system transition back into society, the group was recognized by the White House as "Champions of Change."
"We were absolutely honored and grateful to be considered for this national honor," said Linda Leathers, chief executive officer for The Next Door Inc., a faith-based organization.
"I really believe it's a team recognition ... it's a Tennessee success story, and we are most grateful for the support of that region," she added.
Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping the country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century, according to the White House's website. Earlier this month, the program's focus was on recognizing groups and individuals who are making progress in reducing the effects of drug use.
Leathers traveled to Washington on Aug. 5 to participate in a roundtable discussion about the issues affecting the region.
"What we have found with the Tennessee Department of Correction is that 45 percent of women currently in the Tennessee prison system are from East Tennessee," she said. "Our initiative strategically focuses on reducing that number."
The Residential Transition Program in Chattanooga was modeled after a program in Nashville that has served more than 800 women since opening in May 2004, Leathers said. The Chattanooga program opened in June 2010 to address a significant gap in services for women re-entering society from incarceration, she said.
Recidivism rates for women who participate in the transitional program improve from about 50 or 60 percent to 14 percent, she said.
"Our main goal is to help give them the tools and confidence to be able to go out and be in the community and not re-enter the system again," said the Chattanooga Correctional Release Center program manager Becky Phelps.
The program has a six-month curriculum, with a focus on finding employment and improving the women's workforce skills. Participants also receive addiction recovery support, including counseling and intervention for women at risk of relapse.
Leathers said the Chattanooga program is a model that can work, and the national recognition from the White House will allow them to get the word out more.
"Which is great because we want to see the women's lives be transformed," she added.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...