Local advocates working on governor’s criminal justice reform efforts

Local advocates working on governor’s criminal justice reform efforts

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Over 95% of Tennessee prisoners are scheduled to be released to society one day.

That’s according to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee who is making a big push for criminal justice reform.

“We’re dedicated to serving every part of and every person in our state, that’s why I’ve made criminal justice reform such a large priority,” said Gov. Lee Thursday night during his State of West Tennessee address.

Criminal justice reform has been a priority for Lee since he took office last year, supporting programs that help inmates successfully re-enter society.

“I’ve been out for 15 years now and when I came out there were no opportunities,” said Deandre Brown, executive director of “Lifeline to Success” -- a non-profit that helps ex-inmates find jobs.

Brown went from serving time in prison to serving time with the governor.

He was appointed to the governor’s “Criminal Justice Enforcement Task Force.”

“In the beginning people didn't see individuals with felonies as people who could be saved,” said Brown.

“So now that we're turning our focus on turning their lives around, we have to then make it easier for them to transition into mainstream society,” said Brown.

Some of the task force's recommendations include encouraging employers to hire ex-offenders, expand recovery courts for veterans, mental health consumers and others that need specialized attention and revising the occupational licensing process.

“If we don't provide opportunities to help these individuals than it's a recipe for disaster,” said Harold Collins, Executive Director for the Shelby County Office of Re-Entry.

Collins says on average Shelby County will see 8,000 to 10,000 former inmates re-enter society every year.

Collins applauds the Governor's efforts, but says there's so much more that can be done here in Shelby County.

He says transportation is a major issue.

“When you have a job in East Memphis or the warehouse industry, but you can't get there because there is not adequate transportation,” said Collins.

Collins says excessive court costs, traffic tickets and expungement fees can also be a hindrance.

Gov. Lee also says its important to be tough on crime.

He is also pushing for increased penalties for gun thefts and reckless endangerment of a police officer or first responder.

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