Criminal defense lawyers question credibility of Haslam task force on sentencing reform

Note: The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has written a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and members of a task force he established to review the state’s criminal sentencing laws. The news release follows, with a link to the full letter.)

News release from the Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
The United States has the highest per capita incarceration rates in the world, and it is harming our society. Across the United States, there is increasing bipartisan support for being smart on crime in order to have a justice system that is fair and cost efficient. This includes decreasing the rate of incarceration by offering additional alternatives to prison, lowering sentences for non-violent offenses, and increasing opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation in order to decrease recidivism.

In Tennessee, when first formed, it was stated the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism was seeking input from hundreds of stakeholders throughout the state. The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) is not aware of any solicitation by the Task Force of input from TACDL, correctional officer organizations, prisoner advocacy organizations, or former prisoners whose experiences in correctional facilities might aid the Task Force in formulating recommendations. This deficiency impairs the credibility and the efficacy of any recommendations by the Task Force. Absent critical input from those with expertise in the criminal justice system, any recommendations run the risk of increasing the length of sentences, incarceration rates, prison costs, and recidivism.

TACDL has today sent a letter to the Chair and Members of the Governor’s Task Force which will have its final meeting in Nashville on August 6, 2015. The letter notes that the cost of incarceration in Tennessee is now staggering. It costs Tennesseans nearly a billion dollars a year to keep people incarcerated in state prisons and local jails. The number of imprisoned people in the Tennessee Department of Correction on June 30, 2014 included 21,246 offenders, and over 8,000 people are locked up in local jails all over the state. We now incarcerate more people in Tennessee than does the entire continent of Australia with four times the population.

TACDL applauds the revision of sentencing laws, but the process should be accomplished in consultation with all appropriate stakeholders. Only in that fashion can we achieve a result which is fair, effective, cost efficient, and supported by the public.

The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL) is a non-profit statewide organization with nearly 1000 members, including private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, and law professors. Founded in 1973, TACDL is the state’s leading organization advancing the mission of criminal defense lawyers to protect the individual rights guaranteed by the United States and Tennessee Constitutions in criminal cases. TACDL is committed to advocating fair and effective criminal justice in the courts and the legislature. TACDL is an affiliate of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

Note: Full text of the letter is HERE. It is written by David L. Raybin, a Nashville lawyer, and runs 16 pages – including a historical review of Tennessee prisons and sentencing laws.