New state laws require life sentences for more criminal offenses. The enforcement of these laws through arrests, prosecutions, and convictions is causing a large increase in the Tennessee state prison population.
According to a study by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit based in Washington DC, the trend towards more lifetime incarcerations in Tennessee is just beginning. The study revealed that the percentage of lifetime sentences in Tennessee has increased by 87% since 1970.
The study, according to the Tennessean, also revealed that more than 50% of the people serving life sentences in the state are Black, which “disproportionately harms minority communities as a whole.”
The study, which confirms a state study by Governor Bill Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, shows that the increase in lifetime sentences is not reducing the crime level. The task force study, in 2019, also showed that the increase in sentences which affects black residents proportionally more than other populations, isn’t reducing the level of crime in the state.
According to the Sentencing Project report, 2,831 people in the state are serving long sentences (sentences of 50 years or more) including life and life without parole. 54% of these people are black while just 17% of the state population is black, according to the US Census data, are black.
One in ten of the people serving life sentences were minors when they committed their crimes. The length of sentences for Tennessee minors was highlighted, according to the Tennessean, in the case of Cyntoia Brown, who shot a 43-year-old man when she was 16-years-old – in 2004. The man was lying beside her in bed at the time. She was sentenced to life in prison. Governor Bill Haslam granted her clemency. Governor Halsam “called on lawmakers to consider reforming juvenile sentencing laws.”
According to the lead author of the study, there’s no evidence that extreme sentences are producing better safety results.
The Tennessean reported that sentencing laws became harsher in 1995. Before 1995, a person convicted of a serious crime could either be sentenced to:
- Life without parole
- Life with the possibility of parole – after 25 years
In 1995, the law was updated to require that a convicted person spend 51 years without parole before parole could be considered. For many defendants, the 51-year time is essentially a life without parole sentence.
In addition to concerns about whether the increased sentences are providing more public safety, there is the concern that increased sentences are costing Tennessee a fortune in prison costs. Tennessee currently pays $1 billion yearly to the state prison system.
At the Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates, our criminal defense lawyers fight aggressively to keep our clients out of prison. We have a strong track record of success in having charges dismissed, reducing charges to lesser offenses, and obtaining acquittals. If you’ve been arrested for any crime, please call our office at 615-977-9370 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent defendants in Franklin, Columbia, and Brentwood, and throughout Tennessee.