New Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center aims to help inmates reclaim lives

LAUDERDALE COUNTY, Tenn. — With more than 21,000 state prisoners across Tennessee and the female population doubling over the last 15 years, the Tennessee Department of Correction is experimenting with new programs.

wtrc-sweepsWBBJ 7 Eyewitness News was the first news crew granted access the new Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center in West Tennessee.

Behind the locked doors and barbed wire of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, female offenders are embracing new programs designed to keep them out of trouble.

“90 percent of our offenders will return to the communities in which they come from, so it is our duty to provide them with the necessary tools that they need to be successful,” Warden Trinity Minter said.

The Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center opened in August, focusing on instilling practical skills not available in traditional prisons.

“They have more programs here that’ll be able to get a real job outside of here,” Samantha Lewis, an inmate, said.

“There’s a lot to do,” said Shibhan Skeeter, also an inmate. “It doesn’t even feel like you’re in prison, honestly. It really doesn’t.”

Beyond group substance abuse programs, inmates with a proven record of good behavior can spend time in the kitchen, computer lab, wood shop or hair salon, or even earn their GED.

The women said they have benefited from programs putting an emphasis on rebuilding families and broken relationships.

“You know when you speak to your family and you have interaction with your support system on the outside, it makes your time so much easier as well,” Skeeter said.

Inmates have access to technology with funds from their commissary fund. They can use kiosks for video visitations and even buy tablets for emailing family members.

Proponents said research shows this type of approach to rehabilitating inmates, not just punishing them, has proven results.

“I think it will keep a lot of people from coming back because they are going to be prepared to live the proper way,” Lewis said.

“We’re going to be a model that other states will follow,” Warden Minter said. “We are doing some good things at this facility that is really going to be inspiring to other correctional agencies.”

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