New Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform Converge Diverse Perspectives for Change in Tennessee
With an incarceration rate 11 percent higher than the national average, an unusually varied group of Tennessee businesses, social service, and advocacy groups converged under the newly formed Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice to reform the criminal justice system. The coalition announced their formation on September 20, 2016. The coalition, expecting to work on a wide array of issues such as driver’s license reform and juvenile justice, includes the American Civil Liberties Union, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
In support of limited government, Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, stated that the taxpayers were spending too much money on a system that does not work. Between 1981-2013, Tennessee’s imprisonment rate rose by 256 percent while the state spent $900 million on incarceration annually in the recent years.
Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville area Chamber of Commerce, explained that high incarceration rates impact businesses negatively. With a changing demographic skewed toward the older population, Schulz worried that increasing incarceration would limit employment necessary for a vibrant labor market.
The current criminal justice system in Tennessee often harshly penalizes citizens who commit non-violent offenses. To make matters worse, such punishments negatively affect state taxpayers and businesses. Coalition members have arranged a series of town hall meetings in the upcoming months that may pave the way toward appropriate and substantial criminal justice reform.