Philip J. Lorenz III
The Franklin County Health Department and Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry Program team’s morale was already high before the Tennessee Department of Health presented them with a prestigious award on Dec. 6.
The state agency, through their Primary Prevention Initiative, presented the Bright Spot Award – Silver Level, to the county’s two organizations that have “made a significant contribution on behalf of public health that is extraordinary and would set an example for others.”
Sofia Leon-Meza, the county’s Tennessee Department of Health’s public health educator for Grundy and Franklin counties, and Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry Instructor and Assistant Director Dale Hatcher weighed in on the significance of this award.
“Being from a small community, this (award) highlights who we are and what we do for the community,” she said. “I feel honored (for all us being recognized) for our efforts.”
Hatcher reiterated the focus of the classes that the two agencies cover.
“We partner with the health department (to teach) primary prevention, health wise,” he said. “We look at smoking, stress, (a range of health-related issues with the inmates who attend the classes).”
Hatcher spoke about the benefits of teaming up with Leon-Meza and how everyone involved made gains.
“Our partnership with the local health department helped us get that award (to promote) better health,” he said.
Leon-Meza, in collaboration with the Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry program team, teaches inmates classes at the Jail Annex about a wide variety of healthcare issues, emphasizing how to act proactively to prevent serious health-related problems.
Her classes with the inmates cover sexually-transmitted diseases, tobacco use, smoking cessation, opioid addiction, nutrition, relaxation techniques to help them deal with stressful situations, and more.
“In (the Middle Tennessee Rural) Reentry (Program), it’s not just about your health, they also teach them about job (interviews, writing resumes and applicable work skills, like injection molding) and how to prepare them to (be productive citizens),” she said.
Earlier in the year, Leon-Meza had teamed up with her supervisor at the Tennessee Department of Health to submit the nomination for the Bright Spot Award.
The recent award presentation follows another recent award presentation to the MTRR team program’s staff from the Tennessee Public Health Association (TPHA), which works with and supports the Tennessee Department of Health.
The THPA presented the MTRR with the Partners and Leadership Group Award in September. The presentation took place in Franklin, Tennessee.
The award’s significance is posted on the Tennessee Public Health Association’s website.
“The Partners and Leadership Group Award is presented to a non-public health professional group or organization that has made a significant contribution on behalf of public health that is extraordinary and would set an example for others.”
The award summary stated, “Poverty affects many health outcomes. The Middle Tennessee Rural Reentry (MTRR) program has been working since 2007 to reduce jail recidivism rates and thereby reduce poverty and improve health in Franklin, Coffee and Warren Counties.”
The MTRR offers Health Department classes, parenting classes, GED classes, job readiness and career counseling, moral reconation therapy, vocational evaluation, and an introduction to manufacturing/injection molding through the Tennessee College of Applied Technology to inmates.
Franklin County Health Department classes include tobacco education, birth control methods, sexually transmitted illnesses, addiction and substance abuse, nutrition, relaxation techniques, parenting and the need for screening exams.
MTTR, which was originated in Franklin County, helps participants by preparing them for the workforce, instilling a sense of self-worth, and motivating them to make healthier choices.
The recidivism rate for the jail normally runs around 80 percent; however, the MTTR recidivism rate averages 30 – 35 percent. The job placement rate is around 64 percent which helps participants break the cycle of repeated incarcerations and raise their standard of living, thereby improving their health.
The return on investment, which is based on total wages earned by participants versus total cost of the program, is over three to one. This ROI doesn’t include the savings from keeping people from being re-incarcerated. If that cost was included, the ROI would be about ten to one.
Christine Hopkins, Director of the MTRR, has more than three decades of experience in rehabilitation for the state of Tennessee.
She designed the program to meet the needs of the inmates and worked to gain the support of local businesses and community members. Hopkins sold the community on the importance of reducing recidivism and helping inmates become productive citizens.”
The award acknowledged that Hopkins also developed partnerships in the community to provide education to the inmates and help them obtain jobs upon release.
Hopkins and her staff also work to write grants to keep the program going.
The award document stated that due to the MTTR’s success, it spread to Coffee and Warren counties.
“The staff has also grown from two to 15 and they have overcome many challenges in their 10 year history.
“Hopkins says that her staff have a passion for those they serve and changing lives is the answer, not building more prisons.”
The award document stated that “improvements in socioeconomic status and public safety brought about by this program will lead to better health outcomes for the entire community.”
Hopkins is a person of great integrity who cares deeply for her community. She is humble and realizes that anyone could end up struggling with addiction, which could result in incarceration.
The award document concluded with how critical Hopkins’ role has been in its success.
“Christine is a very self-motivated person who not only worked to bring a quality rehabilitation program to Franklin County but expanded the program when she realized how effective it is for the inmates.
Christine will be expanding the program to include Grundy County in September of 2017 because her enthusiasm for helping others is unlimited.”