Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands announced today that it has added Skadden Fellow Vidhi Sanghavi Joshi as the leader of a new two-year project focusing on re-entry issues in Middle Tennessee and the Cumberland Plateau. Vidhi Sanghavi Joshi will start a program to help individuals with criminal records combat the legal barriers they face upon re-entering the community from jail or prison.
"During her time with Legal Aid Society, Vidhi will focus on launching a strategic program through which Legal Aid Society provides holistic legal services to low-income individuals with criminal records," said Gary Housepian, executive director of Legal Aid Society. "The state's most recent study of recidivism reported that 46 percent of people released from Tennessee's jails or prisons return within three years. We hope to impact these statistics with increased focus and efforts in this area. We want to help these individuals support themselves, rebuild their lives, and become part of their community once again."
In her new role, Joshi will research the legal remedies available to ease the collateral consequences that stem from a criminal conviction in the 48 counties Legal Aid Society serves, and then determine the best way to provide access to these remedies through Legal Aid's services.
Often, simple issues like obtaining a driver's license or applying for housing may prove difficult for individuals re-entering the community. Even for those charged with misdemeanors, the process to re-enter into the community can be expensive--potentially costing several thousands of dollars in court and incarceration related fees.
"Under Tennessee law, if people with criminal records cannot pay the cumbersome fees they owe from their interaction with the criminal justice system upon re-entering the community, their driver's license is automatically suspended," said Joshi. "This law makes it exponentially more difficult for a person to acquire a job, get to work, find housing and move forward with his or her life and is just one more example of how the law prevents people with criminal records from having an opportunity to succeed before ever being released from jail."
With this program, Legal Aid Society will partner with and guide individuals with criminal records through their re-entry into the community. Assistance will include correcting inaccurate criminal records, securing licenses, obtaining certificates of employability, helping with eviction proceedings and other legal processes. The project will also seek out partnerships with other community agencies to build a coalition of advocacy.
"It is our hope that, with Vidhi's guidance in launching our new re-entry program, we are able to remove barriers that stand in the way of formerly incarcerated individuals starting a new life with confidence and stability," said Housepian. "Doing so will help reduce our country's extremely high recidivism rate and