Projects: Tennessee Governor's Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism
In 2014, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam established the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, with technical assistance and expert guidance from Vera. The task force was asked to provide policy recommendations to the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet to reduce recidivism and address Tennessee’s growing prison population. The task force published its final report of its recommendations to the subcabinet and Governor Haslam in September 2015.
With a grant from the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust, Vera provided technical assistance and advised the task force on best practices, national trends, and policy reforms, sometimes through the expertise of invited presenters. Vera also analyzed Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC)’s trends and data to understand the state’s criminal justice landscape and the projected impact of the task force’s recommendations on Tennessee’s prison population.
The task force—comprising state legislators, judges, executive branch officials, district attorneys, sheriffs, a police chief, a mayor, business community leaders, and nonprofit service providers—was co-chaired by the commissioners of the state’s departments of safety and homeland security and the department of corrections. Vera also facilitated the task force’s four working groups on sentencing structure, sentencing classifications and enhancements, community supervision, and programming and treatment.
To ensure that insights from a broad group of stakeholders were represented and shared, Vera also met with various state stakeholders, including defense attorneys (public defenders and private attorneys), people impacted by the criminal justice system (families of offenders and current prisoners), victim advocates, district attorneys, activists and advocates, service providers, legislators, commissioners, and local officials both prior to and during the formation of the task force.
Why work on sentencing and recidivism in Tennessee?
Since 1981, Tennessee’s imprisonment rate, measured by the number of people incarcerated per 100,000 residents, has climbed 256 percent, from 171 in 1981 to 438 in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the most recent statewide study of recidivism, from 2010, the percentage of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee who were reincarcerated within three years was 46 percent, and this rate remained relatively flat for the 2001 to 2005 release cohorts.
In recent years, as the overall national prison population has begun to decline, states around the country have achieved reductions in their prison populations, their recidivism rates, and their crime rates. In 2013, a number of states in the South saw their total prison and jail populations decrease from the previous year while Tennessee’s prison population grew by 0.4 percent. Between 2008 (when the national prison population reached its peak) and 2013, the 10 states with the largest decreases in their imprisonment rate also experienced an average 13 percent decline in their crime rates. While Tennessee’s overall crime rate has declined since 2010, its violent crime rate ranks among the top five U.S. states.
For questions about Vera’s work in Tennessee, please contact Becky Silber.