KNOXVILLE, Tenn (WVLT) — Entrepreneur and philanthropist Josh Smith announced the launch of the 4th Purpose Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to helping make prison a place of transformation rather than a place of punishment.

The entrepreneur recently sold the region’s largest residential waterproofing and foundation service company, Master Service Companies, and will commit nearly 50 percent of its sale to the foundation.

Smith will invest $8 million in his commitment to prison reform, to fund research and transformative programs.

The U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the world’s total population, but nearly 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

Research shows, there are now more than 6.6 million people in the U.S. who are currently in the criminal justice system. This number is a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years.

“The US Bureau of Justice has found that, of those inmates released from state prisons, 83% are rearrested within nine years, which means our current system is broken,” Josh Smith, CEO of 4th Purpose Foundation, said. “The biggest problem with America’s prison system is that it does not prepare people to leave. Transforming America’s prisoners requires transforming the way America thinks about prison and its overarching purpose.”

The foundation is built on the belief that the fourth purpose of prison should be transformation. Smith said 4th purpose doesn’t want prisoners reverting to their original, crime-committing state. The organization wants to prepare men and women in ways they weren’t prepared before while also providing hope.

“There’s nothing more dangerous than a person without hope,” Smith said.

Before Smith built a $30 million enterprise, he was incarcerated in a Kentucky federal prison for his involvement in drug trafficking.

Smith was raised in a single-mother household and lived in government housing. At 11-years-old he was sent away from his home because of abuse. By 16-years-old, Smith had been convicted of seven felonies.

Smith dropped out of school in the 11th grade and was sent to prison at 21. Smith said he had no plans to exit prison any differently than he entered.

While in prison, Smith said he found redemption through faith and by forming personal relationships with several highly educated mentors that he happened to be incarcerated with.

Smith has spent the last 15 years actively involved with speaking and mentoring inside prisons in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. In 2019, Smith was named to Governor Bill Lee’s Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force.

Lee said the task force is “committed to addressing all aspects of the criminal justice system to improve public safety and reentry,” in the state of Tennessee.

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