Gov. Lee: Criminal justice reform will mean fewer people in jail

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Posted at 8:26 PM, May 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-21 21:26:14-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Two of Governor Bill Lee's criminal justice reform packages passed through the state legislature in the 2021 session.

Governor Lee said he thinks they will result in fewer people incarcerated, and a lower crime rate in Tennessee.

The first is the Re-entry Success Act which creates a supervision program for people getting out of prison and reduces liability for employers who are hiring people with a criminal record.

The legislature also passed a bill that will create alternatives for incarceration as long as the person is convicted of a low-level or non-violent offense.

"There are people in prison who are violent offenders that are a threat to society that need to be there," said Governor Lee. "That's why you can talk about being tough on crime and smart on crime. There are also low-level non-violent offenders that are incarcerated. Often times the evidence shows they're incarcerated for way too long and there is real evidence that alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders, those that are not a real threat to our society but have committed a crime if we use alternative sentences like drug courts and mental health courts, we have much better outcomes for those folks."

The governor's passion first started 20 years ago when he was part of a mentor program for people trying to re-enter society.

He also hired formerly incarcerated employees at his business. He said many times the people who are arrested for non-violent crimes become motivated to do better if given an opportunity.

"You have to recognize that they're human beings," he said. "They're people. They've got children. Many of them have wives or husbands. They've got loved ones, they've got a desire to pay the penalty for their crime but they also have a desire to be a productive citizen."

Lee said more criminal justice reform will happen in the future as long as he is the governor.

"There will be children that will not go to prison because of the changes that we've made. Because their parents will not be incarcerated. There will be families that stay together. There will be victims that will not ever become victims because of the changes that we make," he said.

Lee said he plans to sign the bills at a ceremony on Monday.