State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) will co-chair Gov. Bill Lee’s new volunteer initiative to mentor prisoners for successful re-entry into society. He will share responsibilities as honorary chair of Tennessee’s Volunteer Mentorship Initiative with State Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).

Lee made the announcement during his State of the State/Budget Address on Monday evening. Sen. Bell and Rep. Curcio lead the Judiciary Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Tonight, I’m proud to announce that we are launching the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative to equip Tennesseans throughout our state to mentor fellow Tennesseans who are currently in prison,” said Gov. Lee. “I am pleased to announce that Sen. Mike Bell and Rep. Michael Curcio have graciously agreed to be the honorary co-chairs of the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative.

Lee said he will sign up as the first volunteer and that members of his senior staff have also agreed to join the program.

Sen. Bell announced that he, too, has signed on as a volunteer mentor.

“I am very humbled to be a part of this effort to help prisoners get their life back on the right path,” said Sen. Bell. “When people come out of prison and go back into society, that is really where the rubber meets the road. We have to get them connected into the community again and to reject a life of crime. Compelling evidence shows that recidivism is reduced dramatically for persons who are integrated back into their communities with the help and guidance of mentors upon release. I am grateful to be a part of this program and, like Governor Lee, I urge others to prayerfully consider helping in this effort.”

According to Lee, the initiative will begin by working with Tennessee-based nonprofits to pair degree-seeking inmates with mentors on the outside as they seek better opportunities for themselves during their time in prison and their first days back in their communities.

Tennessee’s felon inmate population has grown by 11.7 percent over the past five years, with approximately 22,000 inmates housed in state prisons and another 8,000 felons held in county jails. Ninety percent of these inmates will leave prison and return to society after serving time behind bars. Approximately 76,000 are on probation, parole or in community supervision programs.

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