Thanks to all that Participated in Part 1 of our Youth Advocates Digital Campaign!

Although Part 1 of our Digital Campaign is over, there are a number of bills you can  support until our next campaign beginning on 2/12/18.   In the meantime, give your legislators a call about one of the bills below you feel most strongly about!
For tips and training on how to contact your legislators, see the following link.  Find your legislators here.

A few notable pending bills you might want to support:

HB2468-We wish this bill sponsored by Rep. DeBerry was more robust, but it is a start to accountability in private prisons.  Showing your support of it with your legislators will send a message about prison for profit.   This bill is currently with the Senate State and Local Government Committee and the House State Government Subcommittee.
HB2676 -This one pretty much does the same thing as HB2468 and would establish standards for private prisons–might as well express your support for both!  The key is to emphasize your disapproval of private prisons generally and the lack of accountability standards in private facilities.  This bill is currently with the Senate State and Local Government Committee and the House State Government Subcommittee.
HB2496–It is pretty ridiculous that in 2018 a bill is necessary that would prohibit chain gangs in prisons (i.e., “prohibit restraining any inmate engaged in work within or outside of a prison, jail, or workhouse facility in a manner that joins the inmate with one or more other inmates.”). But it was filed by Rep. Towns (Memphis) last week…and it seems to make sense…support it.
HB2658-This bill will prevent youth from juvenile records for mere unruly/status offenses (offenses that are only offenses because of the youths age, like truancy) that could hurt youth school and employment prospects.  This bill sponsored by Rep Karen Camper is with the Civil Justice Subcommittee.
HB2651–This bill establishes a commission on the school-to-prison pipeline and restorative practices. This is a good one, and needed, also filed by Rep. Karen Camper. It is currently with the Education Administration & Planning Subcommittee and Senate Government Operations Committee.
HB0890–This bill authorizes the TN Board of Claims to hear claims for compensation by persons whose convictions are vacated based on DNA evidence if they have served at least 25 years. Republican sponsored by Rep Williams, currently with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Youth Advocates Digital Campaign Part 1

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!

Announcement: 2018 Youth Advocates Digital Campaign

Please join us for our 2018 Youth Advocates Digital Campaign, which will ask Project MI members and supporters to contact legislators to support/oppose legislation impacting Tennessee youth and criminal justice.

Our Digital Campaign will run on each of the following dates:

Tues., 2/6/18 to Thurs. 2/8/18                    Mon., 2/19/18 to Wed., 2/21/18

Mon., 2/12/18 to Wed., 2/14/18                 Mon., 2/26/18 to Wed., 2/28/18

On each of the above beginning dates, lookout for further information via the Project MI website or  Facebook page to find out what legislation you should contact legislators about.  You will also find instructions about which legislators to contact using your preferred method of contact (email, phone or in person).

Please spread the word about our Digital Campaign—the more the better!


Major TN Juvenile Justice Legislation Under Consideration

This past week, Governor Bill Haslam filed major legislation aimed at a number of youth justice issues including inconsistent policies across Tennessee juvenile courts, and placing limits on the types of offenses for which youth can be detained.

Please join us Monday, February 5th at 6pm at our 2018 Youth Legislation Informational and Training for a breakdown of the proposed Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, as well as information on a number of other legislative measures, under consideration by the Tennessee legislature.  We will also provide a brief training on effectively contacting legislators.


2018 Legislation Flyer

2018 Tennessee Juvenile Justice Legislation Informational

You don’t have to be a lawyer or politician to fight laws that are bad for our youth!

Our February Meet-Up next week will focus on 2018 Legislation impacting youth justice in Tennessee. Join us to find out what YOU CAN DO to support the good laws being considered by your legislators and fight the bad!


2018 Legislation Flyer

January Meet-Up

Happy New Year!

For those interested in our Youth Advocacy Program, our Monday, 1/8 meeting at 6pm at the Law School (1 N Front St.) will be a great one to attend!

In this meet-up we will be recruiting for our Youth Advocacy Program and providing an informational about our work at Carver High School.

After our informational, all committees will meet.

Hope to see you there!

Youth Art Competition: “Building Our Communities”

Project MI is excited to announce the “Building Our Communities” Youth Art Competition! All Shelby County high school age youth are invited to visually express their ideas on how to improve our communities. Selected entries will be premiered at our First Annual Youth Activism & Leadership Summit with the theme, “My City, My Voice” on July 28, 2018.

PJMI art competition



The Supreme Court on Mental Health & Sentencing

This fall the U.S Supreme Court heard the case of Carlos Ayestas, an indigent felon convicted of first degree murder  of a Houston woman in 1999, then later diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2001.

Carlos Ayestas was sentenced to death for the murder of a Houston woman in 1995 prior to his schizophrenia diagnosis.   Photo credit: TDCJ/Abby Livingston

This summer the Supreme Court will decide whether the indigent convicted have a right to funding for experts and other resources at the sentencing phase.   Had Ayestas had funding for expert evaluation of his mental condition during the investigation prior to his sentencing hearing, he may have never been sentenced to death.

Ayestas’ undocumented immigrant status at the time of the murder further complicates the issues and adds much fuel to the controversy surrounding this case, especially given President Trump’s promise to prosecute such violators to the fullest extent of the law possible.

The Supreme Court is expected to side with Ayestas, recognizing the critical part mental health plays in the commission of crime.

For more, checkout this article on In Justice Today.