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New bills to target criminal justice reform in Tennessee

Jail Cell
Posted at 8:09 PM, Jan 11, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee lawmakers said they are focusing on criminal justice reform in the 2022 session.

State GOP leaders said Tuesday one of their top focuses would be the topic.

House Speak Cameron Sexton said juvenile justice is something the party will pursue.

"We never really had a program that was able to pull kids out of that crime path to get into adult career offenders," said Sexton. "[We're] working with the DAs and law enforcement to try to create a juvenile intervention program that would hopefully get those juveniles and give them all a different path than being a criminal."

Sexton said there are other priorities, including some from Gov. Bill Lee. Truth in sentencing is one of them. Laws which would keep people convicted of rape, sexual assault or other violent crimes from getting out of jail early.

However, state Democrats, such as Nashville's Sen. Jeff Yarbro, said the problem runs deeper.

"The question is whether it's a buzz word or whether you're willing to actually do this," said Yarbro. "Over the last few years, Tennessee has spent more and more of taxpayer dollars on incarceration. That's not because crime is going up it's because we're spending more and more, and we're increasingly keeping prisoners who are older and older and dealing with healthcare costs."

Yarbro believes Tennessee should be following other states in reducing sentence length.

"Our neighbors in Alabama, Texas and literally every single state around the country, they're taking money out of their prison systems and putting it into their school systems and college systems and into things that actually build communities up," he said.

A press conference happened outside the capitol about life sentences in Tennessee.

Additionally, a group met to support a bill that would half the state's current sentence for a life sentence with parole. Currently, it's 51 years. The bill would reduce that to 25.

"Right now, Tennessee's current life sentence with a possibility of parole does nothing to restore community or even healing," said one of the speakers. "It may put a salve on our anger if that person just rots in jail but when do we get growth from rotting."