By Elisabeth Bradley, Studio M staff
Alexis Tindall, 20, enjoys her job and cherishes the relationships she has developed with the people she works with. She even gets to see her friends from time to time … behind bars.
“I think we both avoid each other,” says Tindall, who works at the Rutherford County Correctional Work Center. “They know they are not supposed to talk to me, and I know that I’m not supposed to talk to them. But once they get out, they’ll call me and be like, ‘I can’t believe I saw you!’”
Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the Work Center provides inmates with helpful programs to allow easier re-entry into society. They are provided with educational and vocational opportunities as well as substance abuse prevention. It’s also where they can receive necessary products such as hygiene items, snacks or writing utensils.
Tindall passes commissary to prisoners and handles money coming in or out of the facility. She says many of the people incarcerated are her age.
Of the 757 people currently at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center, 374 are between the ages of 18 and 30. This shouldn’t be surprising, as up to 1 out of 3 young people will be arrested before they turn 23.
“Once you walk into a pod, you see that everyone is young,” Tindall said.
According to Generation Opportunity, an organization that fights for policy reform and defends the freedoms of young Americans, “excessive laws and harsh sentencing” have caused millennials in the United States to make up almost 40 percent of the federal and half of state prison inmate populations.
The United States also has a higher incarceration rate than in any other nation with around 2.3 million people in jail or prison. It has grown by nearly 800 percent since 1980.
Michele Sullivan, 39, who also currently resides in Murfreesboro, has been to jail twice. The first time was in Lebanon, Indiana, when she was 21. Her second arrest was in Murfreesboro and she was held at the Rutherford County Adult Detention Center.
“Everybody else in there was about the same age as me (the first time),” she says. “This last time I went I was 37… and everybody was a lot younger than me.”
Why is this happening? For one, millennials outnumber any other group alive right now, which mean more people available to fill cells. It may also be due to the fact that millennials are the lowest-paid group of people since 1980.
Having less money to work with makes paying off fines a daunting task, especially given that not paying a fine could result in jail time.
“A lot of people are in [jail] for not being able to afford probation,” Tindall said. “It’s like, [they] want somebody to pay $150 a week. That’s expensive. Especially somebody that could have kids or a car or a house.”
“The fees they charge are ridiculous,” said Sullivan. “ A lot of people who are on probation for a year end up on probation for three or four years.”
Sullivan has even had to turn herself in for not being able to pay her fines. She then had to agree to pay a certain amount every month just to stay out of jail.
Public information officer Lisa Marchesoni, who has worked at the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office for six years, says that she has noticed the millennial age group being the most commonly incarcerated.
“I think it’s more difficult for less wealthy people to afford attorneys,” Marchesoni said. While public defenders can offer adequate representation, they’re also dealing with many other cases. Not having the money to be defended properly could result in jail time.
She said another possible factor could be that children receive less attention or discipline from work-distracted parents. They have grown up to be a more relaxed age group and care less about their actions and the consequences.
“I think society is looser than it used to be,” she said. “When you are 18, you are going to be testing your wings.”
Elisabeth Bradley is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.