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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.

Top Agency Bosses Offer Their Visions for Tennessee

In line with Gov. Bill Haslam’s social media-driven communications strategy, the state’s new top decision makers are featured in the administration’s most recent “Governor’s Update” YouTube video

The three-and-a-half-minute video features six of the state’s more than twenty state commissioners, with the top department leaders in Health, Financial Institutions, Children’s Services, Agriculture, Mental Health and Tourism each offering a vision for their agency.

Commissioner Greg Gonzales, who oversees the Department of Financial Institutions, says he wants to build an environment where businesses can be successful, as does Commissioner Julius Johnson of the Department of Agriculture, who said he wants to make the state’s rural and agricultural communities better places to live.

“I believe we can do this by creating incentives for new jobs to be developed in rural areas, to make sure that the agriculture community grows in like-kind with urban businesses and so forth, to develop jobs and to have the same opportunity that the urban areas have,” he said.

Susan Cooper, commissioner of the Department of Health, said she hopes Tennessee can be the healthiest state in the nation while Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker wants to make the Volunteer State one of the top five destinations in the country.

Commissioner Kathryn O’Day of Children’s Services stressed the need for the state to reach out to the local community to best address the needs of kids, and Mental Health Commissioner Doug Varney said the state needs to be sensitive and responsive to the people his department serves.

“Many of these people, by the time they get to this point or are looking to services, they’re desperate. They’re dealing with very difficult situations,” he said.

Frontier Health CEO Appointed as Commissioner of TN Dept. of Mental Health

Press Release from Gov.-Elect Bill Haslam; Jan. 10, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam during a stop in Kingsport today announced mental health non-profit executive Doug Varney as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health.

Varney has spent his professional career with Gray, Tenn.-based Frontier Health, a community mental health center serving families and individuals affected by behavioral health, substance abuse and intellectual deficit issues. He worked his way up from psychological examiner, counselor and therapist to President and CEO.

The department’s mission is to plan for and promote the availability of a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation, and rehabilitation services and supports based on the needs and choices of individuals and families served.

“Doug Varney has spent his life dedicated to helping those affected by these issues, and I’m pleased he will be part of our team,” Haslam said. “He has spent his career at the community level and having that perspective makes him uniquely qualified to this position.”

Varney is active in the Northeast Tennessee region. He was a board member and past president of the Tennessee Association of Community Mental Health Organizations.

He is a member of the faculty at the Healthy Appalachia Institute; adjunct faculty member at East Tennessee State University; past chairman and board member of Carespark, a regional health information exchange; and a member of the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.

He has a master’s degree in Psychology from East Tennessee State and was formerly licensed as a psychological examiner, marriage and family counselor and professional counselor.

“I’m a mission-oriented person, and I’m excited to use my experience and years spent in this field to help all Tennesseans facing these challenges,” Varney said. “I’m honored to be selected by Gov.-elect Haslam, and I’m looking forward to working with the great staff at the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities department.”

Varney, 60, is married to Ceresa, and they have three grown daughters and a granddaughter.

A photo of Varney can be obtained here.

For more information, please visit www.billhaslam.org.