Dismas House celebrates 50 years of giving second chances

Citizens reentering society after prison face barriers. Here’s how Dismas House is helping

There are typically four types of barriers that people face when they are released from prison and they include access to housing and health care.

In 2024, we commemorate 50 years of Dismas House offering hope to returning citizens.

Since our inception in 1974 by Father Jack Hickey, a chaplain at Vanderbilt University, the need for comprehensive reentry solutions has grown increasingly vital. According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly 44% of formerly incarcerated individuals in the U.S. return to prison before their first year of release.

Dismas House’s transformation from an eight-bed house on Music Row to a 72-bed campus on Charlotte Avenue in 2020 was deliberately intended to address these circumstances and better serve residents’ needs.

The move involved a complete reimagining of programming, including the addition of an onsite clinical team, all while maintaining the warm, family-like environment that characterized our original location. About 29.6%  of released citizens return to incarceration within three years according to data from the Tennessee Department of Correction. Dismas House program graduates have a low single-digit recidivism rate since expanding, demonstrating the significance of individualized evidence-based programming.

We’re proud of this success but more work needs to be done to serve the needs of returning citizens. In Tennessee, 95% of the 55,000 current inmates will eventually be released and return to their communities. They typically face many barriers to reentry that significantly impact their success including:

  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Employment discrimination for a past criminal record
  • Access to reliable transportation
  • Untreated mental health, addiction and substance use disorders

It is our goal at Dismas House to eliminate these barriers for returning citizens and break the cycle of incarceration. By using evidence-based practices that focus on the holistic needs of each individual resident, our program fosters lasting change from the inside out. It is our objective to serve as a national standard for reentry programs.

In fact, I had the opportunity to share our best practices with hundreds of criminal justice and reentry professionals at the National Association of Reentry Professionals National Conference held in Franklin in April.

I want to extend our gratitude to the many partners, volunteers, business and community leaders who serve on our board of directors and advisory board, staff members, current and former residents, as well as the broader Nashville community for being part of Dismas House’s 50-year legacy. We look forward to providing second chances for more sons, fathers, brothers, and neighbors alongside the changemakers in our community in 2024 and the years to come.

Written by Kay Kretsch, CEO of Dismas House as guest columnist of the Tennessean