Lee: Faith-based group could reduce TN prison population

Tennessee Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Lee speaks with reporters after an event with the faith-based prison nonprofit Men of Valor in Nashville, Tenn. on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee on Tuesday pointed to a Nashville faith-based halfway home as a possible model for reducing Tennessee’s recidivism rate.

Lee told reporters that organizations like Men of Valor —where he has served as a board member for several years —should be studied by the state as a possible learning tool to help other communities.

“I think what’s happening here is a great opportunity for us to see what works,” said Lee, 58. “The recidivism rate is significantly lower here than the general population so we clearly want to look at the model here and see what’s working.”

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction, statewide recidivism in 2016 was roughly 47 percent — down from 50.5 percent in 2010. Men of Valor’s website says its recidivism rate for former inmates who complete their one-year re-entry program is around 15 percent.

Lee said he didn’t see a problem with the state’s involvement in a religiously-affiliated nonprofit, explaining that Men of Valor is voluntary and doesn’t compel anyone to “believe a certain way.” Lee also didn’t share details about whether he would support state funding to expand organizations like Men of Valor or how the state would spearhead such an expansion.

Men of Valor’s mission statement says it is “committed to winning men in prison to Jesus Christ and discipling them.” The organization offers ministry programs inside prisons, employment reintegration assistance and a year-long re-entry program for inmates leaving prison.

Lee, who is a businessman from Franklin, faces Democratic ex-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in the upcoming November election. Lee has pitched himself as the political outsider who doesn’t have political or government experience, while also touting his Christian faith.

“The best work is done with partnerships,” Lee said. “The state can create an opportunity for nonprofits to thrive without incorporating that nonprofit as part of the state.”

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