Please join Project MI for Part 1 of our 2018 Youth Advocates Digital Campaign!  In Part 1 of our campaign running from 2/6/18 to 2/8/18, we are asking Project MI members, partners, and supporters to contact legislators, in a coordinated effort, to support/oppose legislation impacting Tennessee youth and criminal justice.

For tips and training on how to contact your legislators, please see this video link which will connect you to our 2018 Youth Legislation Informational and Training (the separate Powerpoint for the session can be found here).   The training also includes highlights about various pending legislation.

Additionally, this worksheet and telephone call script are excellent tools to help you get started on what to say when you speak to legislators.  Remember to be brief, professional, and polite in your contact–also relate your support to a personal story if you have one.  Project MI recommends focusing on the bills you feel most passionately about in your contact.

Digital Activism

Part 1 of our campaign will address the following bills:

HB 0135 / SB 0795


Project MI is in support of HB 0135 concerning Tennessee’s 51-to-life law. In the 1980s and 1990s Tennessee lawmakers responded to crime with harsh sentencing laws that had little impact on public safety and actually may have made things worse. Now that we know longer sentences do not equal safer communities, we need to change our approach.

As introduced, this bill would permit a person sentenced to life imprisonment to become eligible for parole release after serving 36 years in prison (and in no event less than 25 years, including sentence reduction credits).   The bill is retroactive, so would allow an incarcerated person convicted under prior law to request parole eligibility consistent with this new law if it passes.

The reasons you should support this bill:

  • First, long term incarceration reduces life expectancy by about 25 years–hence, a 51 year sentence with the possibility of parole after serving 51 years is really a life sentence.
  • Second, long term incarceration tends to make people more violent, not less, in spite of any rehabilitation efforts.  People who serve longer sentences tend to reoffend at higher rates.   Longer term incarceration is also associated with the development of mental health problems as well as physical infirmities.
  • According to the No Exceptions Prison Collective, the cost of incarcerating people sentenced to life with the possibility of parole since the enactment of the 51-to-life law will be $2.097 billion.  This bill could save the state of Tennessee as much as $1.27 billion–money that could be used to rehabilitate people convicted of crimes through community based solutions, educational programs, and other measures more effective than long-term sentencing.
  • Finally, this bill only gives people convicted under prior law to request parole after 36 years–it does not guarantee their release.  Release would be determined by the Tennessee Board of Parole who will consider the convicted person’s initial crime, remorse for the crime, rehabilitation efforts, and behavior while incarcerated.

Contact your representatives TODAY BY PHONE about HB 0135 in support of this bill.  HB 0135 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee and on its calendar for consideration TODAY (2/6/18).    You can can find your legislators here by entering your address in the “Find MY Legislator” screen.  Also, please contact members of the Judiciary Committee, which can be found here, especially those members that are also your own representatives.

HB 2271 / SB 2261

While contacting your representatives, please also express your support of HB 2271.  The state of Tennessee is in desperate need of juvenile justice reform that will lead to less youth in detention and better results for our youth. HB 2271 as introduced enacts the “Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018.”

Although the Juvenile Justice Reform Act bill is quite lengthy and substantial, here are some of the highlights and why you should support it:

  • The Act prohibits use of solitary confinement of youth as punishment while in detention.
    • See this article on how solitary confinement hurts youth by causing “profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger.”
    • As an example of the severe damage of solitary confinement in youth, recall the case of Kalief Browder who committed suicide in 2015 following three years at Rikers Island jail after being accused of stealing a backpack.  Browder’s supporters say his death was the result of mental and physical abuse sustained in detention, including spending a total of nearly 800 estimated days in solitary confinement.
  • It limits offenses for which a youth can be detained more than 24 hours to those that caused or likely to cause death or seriously bodily injury; requires hearing within 30 days of detention.  Currently, there are no such limitations in the state of Tennessee so a youth can be held in detention for minor offenses such as truancy.
  • Removes failure to appear for hearing and probation violations from offenses for which youth can be held in detention.  Currently, there are no such limitations in the state of Tennessee so a youth can face detention time for simply missing a hearing date or violating a minor probation provision.
  • Eliminates automatic detention mandates based on offense and instead encourages “individualized examination of a child’s case…”  This provision recognizes that each child is different and so are the reasons that they offend–a one-size approach is not effective for many youth.
  • Seeks “evidence based” remedies for youth and promotes “validated risk assessment” tools as a basis of determining whether a youth should be confined.  Youth should not be required to complete measures, including detention, that will not help them avoid re-offense.
  • Shifts court financial responsibilities away from youth; prohibits bond/bail settings in juvenile court.  Youth should not spend time incarcerated due to inability to pay court and attorney fees and fines.

Contact your representatives in support of this bill during Part 1 of our campaign (2/6 through 2/8) by your preferred method of contact (phone call, email, in-person visit).   You can can find your representatives here by entering your address in the “Find My Legislator” fields. HB 2271 is currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.  So please also take time to contact members of the Criminal Justice Sub-Committee, whom can be found here, especially those members that are also your own representatives.

Join us for our additional upcoming Digital Campaign dates!

Mon., 2/12/18 to Wed., 2/14/18

Mon., 2/19/18 to Wed., 2/21/18

  Mon., 2/26/18 to Wed., 2/28/18

Finally, thanks to all that attended our 2018 Legislation Informational and Training last night.  A special thanks to attorney and youth justice fellow LaChina McKinney and law student research fellow Noor Obaji who helped make the session a success!

Written by demefrank

mother, womanist, law prof, prison abolitionist. Demetria does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from the viewpoints expressed in this article or post.

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