Lee outlines criminal justice plans in advance of State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee is outlining his plans for criminal justice reform in advance of his first State of the State address on Monday.

“We will focus on helping individuals to ensure there is a pathway to a productive life beyond crime and ultimately make our state a safer place,” said Lee.

Here’s the release from the Lee administration:

Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced comprehensive plans to address criminal justice and public safety ahead of his State of the State address on Monday.

“We must significantly improve public safety in our state and I believe that starts with our criminal justice system,” said Lee. “We will focus on helping individuals to ensure there is a pathway to a productive life beyond crime and ultimately make our state a safer place.”

Gov. Lee is proposing initiatives including:

  • Supplementing mental health efforts by expanding the recovery court system and recovery court programming
  • Eliminating the $180 state expungement fee
  • Expanding higher education programming for incarcerated individuals

Following his announcement regarding mental health investments, Gov. Lee is proposing the expansion of the Recovery Court System, a specialized diversion program focused on comprehensive supervision, treatment services and immediate sanctions and incentives for substance abuse offenders.

With $1.7 million in additional funding, Recovery Courts will expand capacity by 20 percent and serve an additional 500 Tennesseans each year. Individuals who are successfully diverted through this programming are estimated to save the state an average of more than $20,000 per individual in recovered correction costs each year.

Gov. Lee is also proposing to eliminate the burdensome $180 expungement fee associated with clearing records of certain criminal charges. Individuals with clear records are much more likely to secure employment and stable housing instead of re-entering prison.

Additionally, Gov. Lee’s proposal seeks to improve education opportunities within correctional facilities and enable incarcerated individuals to gain the skills needed for re-entry into society. New funding will improve technology infrastructure across correctional facilities to increase the number of incarcerated individuals receiving equivalent high school education. This will also support the launch of a bachelor’s degree program at Turney Center Industrial Complex.

“More than 30 percent of inmates in Tennessee do not have high school education equivalency,” said Lee. “By offering quality education programming, inmates have a 43 percent lower chance of re-entering prison than those who do not receive this education.”

Over the next three years, a $10.5 million investment and partnership with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission will also provide eight state facilities with the capacity to provide career and technical credentials for disciplines like computer information technology and building construction.

“Public safety extends beyond party lines and has the best interest of every Tennessean in mind,” said Lee. “I look forward to working with the legislature and community leaders across Tennessee to make our system a model for the rest of the country.”

2 Responses to Lee outlines criminal justice plans in advance of State of the State address

  • Diana Page says:

    I hope that he will also stop bad criminal justice bills from passing into law, so that in the future there will be less to un-do.

    I hope he is supporting ex-felon voter enfranchisement. There are 2 bills this year.

    I hope that next year there will be deeper reforms.

  • David Collins says:

    I’m impressed. Finally a Republican who can properly analyze a problem in a fashion that is logically and mathematically sound. Experience has shown that it is cheaper to treat and rehabilitate people with drug addictions that it is to simply warehouse them for a number of years and putting them back on the streets. The department of corrections abandoned all attempts at rehabilitation of all inmates under the Alexander administration. Under Alexander the mood shifted to “sexy” sounding programs like Class X crimes which basically just enhanced sentences for a slew of crimes. That attitude became the basic drumbeat of both political parties as they competed to see who could come up with the more draconian sentencing laws while doing nothing to educate and/or train these prisoners to do something, once they finally did hit the streets again. The result was they retuned to doing the only things they knew how to do, mainly, committing crimes in order to survive. Someone making a living from crime is like the gambler in a casino. Eventually they are going to “crap out” and return to prison only to have the cycle repeat itself over and over.

    I applaud the Governor for taking a enlightened and more progressive approach to a serious problem that has been ignored for too long. Similar programs in other jurisdictions have been successful and saved the taxpayers millions of dollars in the process. Kudos to Governor Lee.

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