Tennessee Faith Leaders Send Joint Letter to Members of the General Assembly in Support of Criminal Justice Reform
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Prison Fellowship®, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, is joining with other faith leaders in Tennessee in supporting criminal justice reform.
In a letter addressed to members of the Tennessee General Assembly, faith leaders are calling for a criminal justice system that is fair and redemptive for men and women who are incarcerated and provides pathways for successful reentry upon their release.
"No life is beyond redemption. Every human being, including those who commit crime and the victims of crime, is made in God's image," said Heather Rice-Minus, SVP of Advocacy and Church Mobilization. "That makes us all worthy of respect, protection, and care. Criminal justice reform in Tennessee needs a biblical solution that sees people the way God sees them—as created in His image—and treats them accordingly. Whether currently incarcerated or as returning citizens, people should be provided avenues for personal transformation and a second chance."
"Scripture calls faithful Christians to take up the cause of justice, and that includes advocacy in the public square." said Kate Trammell, Director of Policy and Research for Prison Fellowship. "We hope to see lawmakers from both sides of the aisle respond to this call from pastors to come together and support criminal justice reform legislation that will make Tennessee safer and stronger."
In the letter, the coalition of Tennessee faith leaders asked lawmakers to consider the following guiding biblical principles in working to reform the criminal justice system:
- Every human being has inherent dignity and worth, as they are made in God's image. Our laws should reflect and uphold this truth.
- Accountability for crime should be community-based and local where possible, recognizing that cultivation of the seedbeds of virtue, such as families and churches, pays dividends in reducing crime.
- Appropriate avenues should be provided for personal transformation and a second chance.
- Punishment should be proportional to the act committed, advancing public safety, fostering accountability, and providing opportunities to make amends.
- Rehabilitation of those formerly incarcerated should include, where not prohibited by public safety concerns, restoration of the rights and privileges previously lost in order to foster their ability to become productive citizens and taxpayers in society.
- In March of 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued Executive Order 6, creating the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force to study criminal justice policy in the state.
- Governor Lee tasked this body with studying and addressing incarceration costs, crime prevention, swift responses to violent crime, sentencing guidelines, probation and parole standards, reentry policy, mental health needs of prisoners, and family support.
- In December of 2019, the Taskforce issued its Report, which found that though Tennessee's prison population had grown by 12% between 2009 and 2018 and corrections spending grew by 33% during that same period, the state maintained a high recidivism rate of 47% and the fourth highest violent crime rate in the nation.
- That report also included over 20 recommendations for the improvement of justice systems, including reforms centered on sentencing alternatives, behavioral health, education and treatment in local jails, prioritization of high-risk and violent individuals, community supervision, and successful reentry.
- During the 2020 Legislative Session, Governor Lee introduced legislation to implement reforms focused on alternative sentencing and probation reform and revisions to parole and reentry policy. However, that legislation was not ultimately signed into law.
- In 2021, Governor Lee has re-introduced that legislation, which is now before the Tennessee General Assembly for consideration.