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Tennessee Black Caucus unveils Criminal Justice Reform Package

Tennessee Senate Democratic CaucusNashville, TN – The Joint House and Senate Black Caucus today unveiled its 2016 package for criminal justice reform in Tennessee.

“We have too many Tennesseans wasting away in jail for non-violent, minor crimes that involve either drugs or simply an inability to pay fines,” said Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris.

Reform legislation would eliminate unnecessary fines and crimes of poverty.
Reform legislation would eliminate unnecessary fines and crimes of poverty.

“By and large, these crimes disproportionately affect black Tennesseans. It is an injustice when lives are irreversibly ruined by crimes of substance abuse and crimes of poverty,” stated Harris.

Black Caucus members have identified three main areas of reform: sentencing and rehabilitation, discrimination by law enforcement, and re-entry.

“This legislative package from the black caucus is about changing our criminal justice system to rebuild lives torn apart by crime, drugs and systemic injustice,” said state Representative Brenda Gilmore. “These proposals were put together after hearing directly from black Tennesseans, as well as law enforcement and attorneys, and several are part of the recommendations from the Vera Institute report on sentencing.”

Among the proposals in the black caucus’ package are legislation to add certain property thefts to the list of offenses that can be expunged, to ensure criminal penalties for drug offenses near schools are only used in cases where the drug offense affected minors, and to remove the fees charged for the expungement of records.

“The criminal justice system exists to serve as a deterrent against criminals who endanger our lives, safety and property. It is not a substitute for mental health care, substance abuse counseling or bill collection,” said state Representative JoAnne Favors.

“Governor Haslam has put together a well-intentioned legislative package for criminal justice reform, but it’s just a start,” Representative Gilmore said. “We need a comprehensive program.”

“To really improve the lives of black Tennesseans and help them get their lives back on track, we need to remove or reduce the unnecessary penalties and fines that devastate entire families,” state Representative Raumesh Akbari said. “We need to make it possible for people in poverty to rebuild their lives after an encounter with the criminal justice system.”

“We have not only worked hard to put together a comprehensive package,” said state Representative Harold Love. “We have been intentional about working with allies across the aisle. We have also written to the governor’s office regarding our slate of recommendations. Or effort is bi-cameral, bipartisan, and involves all three branches of government.”

Attached is a complete list of legislation, sponsored by Democrats and Republicans, for criminal justice reform in Tennessee, along with a letter to the governor urging his support for various reforms.


Complete list of Tennessee Black Caucus criminal justice reforms

Letter to Governor Bill Haslam urging his support for Black Caucus efforts on reform


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