The "Alternatives to Incarceration Act" and the "Re-entry Success Act" Are Now Headed to Governor Lee's Desk for Signature
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Prison Fellowship®, the nation's largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families, applauds the Tennessee legislature for passing two criminal justice reform bills, which were a priority of Governor Bill Lee and informed by the recommendations of the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force. Since the spring of 2020, Prison Fellowship has worked to build support for these bipartisan proposals and to convey how these improvements to the justice system can impact real lives. Tennessee is once again demonstrating its ability to provide innovative leadership toward the key issues facing our nation.
- The Alternatives to Incarceration Act expands access to safe prison alternatives, ensures reasonable pre-trial release conditions for those facing criminal charges, and establishes fair probation policies that limit needlessly lengthy terms or extensions.
- The Re-entry Success Act creates rehabilitation and public safety-orientated parole policies, provides reentry supervision support to individuals about to re-join society, incentivizes local jails to provide rehabilitative programming, and removes unnecessary employment barriers.
"No life is beyond redemption and people deserve the dignity of a second chance," said Heather Rice-Minus, SVP of Advocacy and Church Mobilization. "Whether in prison or during reentry, people should be offered avenues for personal transformation and success. We commend Governor Lee for his leadership on seeking a values-based solution to criminal justice reform in Tennessee, and are thankful for the work of the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, the legislature, and pastors and faith leaders who spent years advancing this package."
"Faced with a growing prison population and high recidivism rate, Governor Lee and the Tennessee legislature have dedicated themselves to advancing legislation that creates a more restorative criminal justice system," said Kate Trammell, Director of Policy and Research for Prison Fellowship. "Prison Fellowship applauds their innovative leadership in providing alternatives to incarceration and pathways to reentry success and looks forward to seeing the legislation signed into law by Governor Lee. All Tennesseans, both in our prisons and our communities, stand to benefit from these reforms that recognize redemption."
- In March of 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee issued Executive Order 6, which created the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force to study criminal justice policy within 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, family support, and the mental health needs of prisoners.
- In December of 2019, the Taskforce issued its final report, which found that between FY2009 and FY2018, Tennessee's prison population grew by 12% and its corrections spending by 33%, while parole releases decreased and prison sentences increased. Yet, the state also suffered from a recidivism rate of 47% and the fourth-highest violent crime rate in the nation.
- To address these challenges, the Taskforce Report also included over twenty suggestions for the improvement of the current system, including recommendations regarding sentencing alternatives, education and treatment in local jails, the prioritization of high-risk and violent individuals, community supervision, and successful reentry.
- While efforts to implement these recommendations in 2020 were not ultimately successful, Governor Lee acted during the 2021 Legislative Session to move forward two proposals that would reform both sentencing and probation practices and parole and reentry policy.
- On April 28, 2021, the Tennessee State Senate, acting unanimously, extended final legislative approval to these reforms. Both the Alternatives to Incarceration Act and the Re-entry Success Act will be sent to Governor Lee to be signed into law.