TN Department of Labor Launching Project REAP
July 15, 2022
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) is spearheading a unique statewide program aimed at curbing recidivism, educating inmates, and creating a new pipeline of qualified workers for employers.
The Reentry, Employment, Adult Education Program, or Project REAP, will put specially designed computer tablets in each of the state’s county jails. The tablets allow inmates to complete the required adult education coursework in preparation for the HiSET high school equivalency exam.
Creating opportunities, such as Project REAP, that allow inmates to grow and change their lives while incarcerated, and then coordinating services to help them thrive once released, is part of the mission behind Tennessee’s new Office of Reentry (OOR).
“The Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Office of Reentry is the first of its kind in the nation. Typically, reentry offices are attached to a state’s Correction Department,” said Dr. William Arnold, Director for the Office of Reentry. “We see successful reentry through the lens of strong work skills, better opportunities, and good jobs.”
OOR and the TDLWD Adult Education Division plan to provide approximately 8,000 tablets to counties across Tennessee. This represents a $9 million investment that will better prepare justice involved individuals to reenter our communities and become productive citizens after serving their sentence.
“Project REAP will help inmates improve their literacy, math, and English language skills,” said Jay Baker, Assistant Commissioner the Adult Education Division. “The program integrates workforce preparation skills, helps students earn their high school equivalency diploma, and transitions them to college and career opportunities.”
The state is currently completing the testing phase for Project REAP. In coordination with tablet vendor American Prison Data Systems (APDS), jails in 21 of Tennessee’s 95 counties currently have inmates taking Adult Educations courses online.
“The goal is to utilize this tool in partnership with in-person instructors provided by TDLWD local program providers,” explained LaToya Newson, Assistant Administrator for the Adult Education Division.
In addition to Adult Education courses, inmates can use the tablets for career training, certification reentry preparation, resume building, job search support, mental health, and substance abuse wellness, as well as life skills and a recreational library with educational games, TED Talks, movies, and music.
There is no cost to the inmate to use the tablets or the services they provide.
“Project REAP is truly a gamechanger for incarcerated people,” Dr. Arnold said. “It will allow access to some of the state’s best opportunities through an innovative and secure online service.”
Governor Bill Lee has championed the effort to better prepare justice involved individuals to reenter Tennessee’s communities. He had the vision for the Office of Reentry and made funding this initiative a priority. He spoke about his passion for reentry this past April at the OOR Second Chance Month event in Nashville. You can watch the Governor’s remarks here.
Once the state completes the testing phase for Project REAP in the fall, TDLWD will begin distributing tablets to county jails across Tennessee.
To watch a video that provides an overview of the success Project REAP is having in Gibson County, click here.