Three Chattanooga men serve as models for plotting a course through life after prison

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / JaMichael Caldwell, Joe Jenkins, and Tony Oliver pose for a portrait outside of Orchard Park SDA church on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Chattanooga, Tenn. All three men were once incarcerated, and have since gone on to start their own successful businesses.

The criminal justice system can be a vicious cycle from which it's hard to break free, and for three Chattanooga men, that path has been at times long and winding.

Each year in Tennessee, around 40% of the state's prison population is made up of people going or returning to prison for violating supervised release conditions, according to a 2019 study by the Sycamore Institute, a nonpartisan, Tennessee-based research institution.

Those conditions depend on the type of release, but they range from random drug screens to curfew checks and required completion of community service hours to required employment.

And while community supervision costs the Tennessee Department of Correction far less per individual than incarceration - $1,300 per person in 2017 versus $26,000 for incarceration, according to the study - about half of those released from prison return within three years.