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Improbable alliance seeking to reform Tennessee’s criminal justice system

While the state of Tennessee has recently made progress introducing much-needed reforms to the criminal justice system, it goes without saying that considerably more work needs to be done.

If you have a hard time believing it, consider some of the following statistics about the Tennessee criminal justice system:

  • The incarceration rate is 11 percent higher than the national average.
  • Even though the incarceration rate increased by 256 percent from 1981 to 2013, the Volunteer State still has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the nation.
  • The average annual expenditure for state prisons is roughly $900 million.

Recognizing the toll exacted by these truly astounding numbers, a group of concerned advocacy groups, businesses and social service providers has recently joined forces to fight for comprehensive criminal justice reform.

The members of this seemingly improbable coalition — calling itself the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice — include the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Beacon Center of Tennessee and the Tennessee Association of Goodwills.

While it’s perhaps obvious why a group like the ACLU would be interested in this cause, questions naturally arise as to why a business-centric group like the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce or the smaller-government advocacy group would be interested in criminal justice reform.

For the former, officials indicate that the interest stems primarily from the understanding that continued prosperity for businesses will be dependent on the ability to locate, train and retain a viable workforce, while for the latter the interest stems from a desire to save taxpayer funds from going toward what they deem a broken prison system.

As for the objectives that the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice wants to achieve going forward, the group has already identified at least three areas to which it plans to devote resources and lobbying efforts:

  • Driver’s license reform, such that people no longer lose their ability to drive if convicted of non-driving offenses or if they fail to pay court fines, as this affects their ability to work and be a productive citizen
  • The creation of community-based programs and other front-end initiatives designed to help keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system
  • Enhanced ability for those who have gone years with re-offending to clear criminal records/expunge criminal  convictions

Thus far, the Coalition has planned several town hall meetings and will attempt to rally other interest groups to its cause prior to the commencement of the upcoming legislative session in January.

Here’s hoping these efforts prove successful …

If you’ve been arrested or charged with any sort of criminal offense — felony or misdemeanor — consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options for protecting your freedom and your future.

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