Gov. Bill Lee Announces Strategies to Improve Criminal Justice System

Plans to reform system and better public safety outcomes
Thursday, February 28, 2019 | 02:14pm

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – 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.”