Our mission is to create a just and fair criminal justice system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of society.
Criminal Justice Coalition Fresh Start Summary
Each year, roughly 5,000 Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving their time for crimes they’ve committed. Thousands more made a mistake in the past, but years have gone by without them committing any subsequent offenses. We must eliminate barriers that keep them from becoming productive, taxpaying citizens so that they don't turn back to a life of crime.
One such barrier is government licensing. Almost every state licensing board can deny a license to do a job based off a person's past criminal record, including many low-level misdemeanor crimes. The Fresh Start bill will reduce barriers to entering a profession by only allowing state licensing boards to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought excluding certain felonies. In short, if a person has a series of breaking and entering felonies over the past few years, he can be denied a license to be a locksmith or an alarm installer. But if he has a DUI from 10 years ago, he can’t be denied a license to be a barber.
Once a person is denied a license, the bill also creates a way for an individual to appeal the decision to ensure that their right to earn a living is not unfairly restricted due to a licensing board’s decision.
This bill strikes the appropriate balance between protecting consumers’ safety and preserving the right to earn a living for those who made past mistakes. We can protect public safety and people’s ability to work and be productive citizens at the same time.
Criminal Justice Coalition Probation Incentive Funding Summary
Tennessee’s prison population and recidivism rates have exploded. Gov. Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism found that “from 2010, 46 percent of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee were incarcerated again within three years.” The problem is worse among those in local jails and on probation. These higher prison populations and harsh sentences have not led to lower crime rates and have placed huge burdens on taxpayers. Clearly the system isn’t working. The Coalition for Sensible Justice supports reforms that will reverse this trend and create better outcomes in our criminal justice system.
Specifically, the coalition calls for pilot programs that would tie county sheriff and probation department re-entry programs’ funding to results based on reducing recidivism and probation revocations. We have requested a one-time, $2 million investment by the legislature to create four pilot projects across the state. Sheriff and probation departments receiving grants could receive up to 75% of the grant upfront to start or expand a re-entry program focused on education, workforce development, job placement, substance abuse treatment, or mental health assistance for those in local jails or on probation. The remaining 25% of the funding would only be awarded if the sheriff or probation department met measurable outcomes, including a reduction in their recidivism or probation revocations. These grants would incentivize better outcomes, making our communities safer and saving taxpayers money.
Juvenile Justice Reform
In 2017, the Ad Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice convened to undertake a comprehensive study of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system. Among its key findings, the task force discovered that 44% of delinquent children placed in out-of-home facilities were convicted of a simple misdemeanor or a technical violation (such as running away or violating curfew). In fact, there are more than 1,100 children in state custody for unruly or delinquent offenses. The task force further found that in the last five years, the amount of time that children spend in these facilities and away from their homes and families has increased by 10%. It also found that the average time a child will spend under state probation supervision has increased 18% in five years. The task force also discovered significant disparities in how juveniles were treated from one jurisdiction to another.
The Juvenile Justice Act of 2018 seeks to prioritize the use of community supervision along with evidence-based programs over out-of-home placements. The Act seeks to limit both the time for which a juvenile can be engaged in the juvenile system, as well as which offenses are subject to out-of-home placement. The Act requires that courts utilize validated risk and needs assessments, individualized case plans, and tailored behavior responses for children adjudicated for delinquent offenses. The bill also limits the offenses for which a child can be tried as adult to the most heinous crimes for children 14 years of age and older. Children under 14 years of age may only be tried as an adult for the offenses of criminal homicide and attempted criminal. It also prevents juveniles from being ordered to pay fines and fees, and requires that victim restitution be prioritized over all other financial obligations. Finally, it requires state agencies to come up with a plan to improve data collection and information sharing across the state.
In addition to the agenda above, the Coalition for Sensible Justice also endorses the following bills
SB2258-HB1832: Part of Gov. Haslam's opioid reform, authorizes sentence reduction credits for prisoners who successfully complete intensive substance use disorder treatment program