Sentencing task force recommendations draw criticism

Groups that represent African-Americans, prison inmates and defendants are saying they were locked out of a state task force on repeat offenders, according to WPLN. They want Gov. Bill Haslam to give them a seat at the table.

The Tennessee chapter of the NAACP is one of the organizations that says it should have been included in the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism. But the NAACP’s Lakeilia Johnson says the group wasn’t even told at first that the task force existed. And so now they’re upset with its final report.

“It’s just common sense,” Johnson says. “If we increase the sentences, we are not letting people out of jail. We’re keeping more people in jail, and they’re going to be compiled on top of each other.”

Johnson says the task force instead should have focused on the reasons many people are locked up to begin with. It’s often not because they’re hardened criminals. It’s because they fail to do to things like pay their traffic tickets on time.

…. Activists say too many prosecutors and law enforcement officials wrote the task force’s recommendations. They say Haslam should give groups that work with defendants and prisoners a chance to make their case before acting.

In a separate post, WPLN reports that Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, who chaired the Haslam-appointed task force, isn’t backing down.

“We heard, again and again from law enforcement, about individuals who commit one home burglary. They’re right back in the neighborhood within months, and we understood that concern.”

But Gibbons and other members say those tougher penalties should be weighed against other recommendations.

The report calls for setting firm release dates for all criminals. Right now, those decisions are left to the state’s parole board, which is sometimes criticized for being too tough.

The task force also calls for continuing to support drug, mental health and veterans courts. And it wants to increase supervision for everyone who’s released from prison, including those who have served out their time.