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Haslam Creates Task Force on Sentencing, Recidivism

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; August 14, 2014:

Group to develop legislative and policy recommendations

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced the formation of the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety.

In June, the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet announced a partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice to review sentencing and correction policies and practices. The creation of a task force is the next step in that collaboration.

“We have put a strong emphasis on addressing some of our state’s toughest safety challenges head on, and the Public Safety Subcabinet is doing great work,” Haslam said. “This task force is a next step in making sure we have a comprehensive approach to public safety in Tennessee. I am grateful to the Tennesseans who have agreed to dedicate their time to these issues, and I look forward to their recommendations.”

Members of the task force include:

  • John Campbell, criminal court judge, Memphis
  • John DeBerry, state representative, Memphis
  • James Dunn, district attorney general, 4th judicial district
  • Tim Fuller, sheriff, Franklin County
  • Bill Gibbons, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • Mark Gwyn, director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Kim Helper, district attorney general, 21st judicial district
  • Torry Johnson, district attorney general (retired), Nashville
  • Brian Kelsey, state senator, Germantown
  • William Lamberth, state representative, Cottontown
  • Linda Leathers, chief executive officer, The Next Door
  • William B. Lee, chief executive officer, Lee Company of Tennessee
  • Jon Lundberg, state representative, Bristol
  • Mark Luttrell, mayor, Shelby County
  • Becky Duncan Massey, state senator, Knoxville
  • Gerald Melton, public defender, 16th judicial district
  • Richard Montgomery, chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Seth Norman, criminal court judge, Nashville
  • Bill Oldham, sheriff, Shelby County
  • David Rausch, chief of police, Knoxville
  • Derrick Schofield, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • John Stevens, state senator, Huntingdon
  • Blair Taylor, president, Memphis Tomorrow
  • D. Kelly Thomas, court of criminal appeals judge, Knoxville
  • Doug Varney, commissioner, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
  • Amy Weirich, district attorney general, Shelby County
  • Verna Wyatt, executive director, Tennessee Voices for Victims

The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years. An examination will ensure that the structure is in line with the variety and severity of criminal behavior. Establishing an effective set of sentencing laws can resolve inconsistencies and avoid discrepancies that compromise public safety.

The task force will receive assistance from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. Vera staff will conduct data and policy analysis; identify expertise and resources to support the work of the task force; facilitate meetings and assist in the development of the task force recommendations.

The Vera Institute of Justice is a national, independent, non-partisan justice policy and research organization based in New York. Vera has decades of experience partnering with state and local governments across the United States to improve justice systems.

The task force will submit its recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet by June 2015.

The subcabinet was created by Haslam in 2011 and launched a multi-year public safety action plan in 2012. The group includes commissioners of the departments of Safety and Homeland Security, Correction, Mental Health, Children’s Services, Health and Military, along with the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Parole, directors of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, Office of Criminal Justice Programs, Law Enforcement Training Academy and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

TN to Open Nation’s First State-wide Residential Recovery Court

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; July 22, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) and the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) are opening the first state-wide residential Recovery Court in the nation, effective August 1, 2013.

The court is located in the Morgan County city of Wartburg, which is about 45 miles west of Knoxville. A special Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony will be at 10:30 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 30, at 541 Wayne Cotton Morgan Drive, Wartburg, Tennessee 37887. Among those scheduled to be in attendance are Governor Bill Haslam, State Senator Ken Yager of Harriman, State Representative John Mark Windle of Livingston, and many others.

The 100-bed program has been established to allow the state to divert people in need of substance abuse treatment or mental health services from hard prison beds to effective treatment programs that are evidence-based and proven to have a larger impact on reducing recidivism. It will also allow for prison beds to be reserved for those violent offenders who are in most need of them.

This Recovery Court is different from the other Drug Courts and Recovery Courts currently in operation in that this one is more intensive than the current program and offers services on a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week basis. It will be operated by the Davidson County Drug Court Support Foundation, a private foundation.

The Recovery Court will cost much less per person than an average prison: While prison costs an average of $65 per prisoner per day, the Recovery Court will cost an average of $35 per person per day.

“While incarceration is expensive, this isn’t just about saving dollars,” says TDMHSAS Commissioner Douglas Varney. “It is about doing what is best for public safety.”

Nationally, people who participate in evidence-based community programs that meet their needs recidivate at about one-third the rate of people who don’t. Alternative sentencing should be reserved for those offenders that are most in need. Drug offenders have been proven to have success in drug court programs that effectively address their needs.

“This program should not be considered being soft on crime,” says TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield. “What it says is that we’re going to place people in the best option to ensure they don’t re-offend. But also, we’re going to make sure we have a prison bed available for people who commit violent offenses that harm our communities.”

TDMHSAS and TDOC are working on this project in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, the Tennessee Department of Health, and the Davidson County Drug Court.