The Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force was created in March of 2019 when Governor Lee issued Executive Order 6 to study criminal justice policies in TN. This task force researched sentencing guidelines, reentry policy, incarceration costs, swift responses to violent crime, probation and parole standards, family support, crime prevention, and the mental health needs of prisoners. They published their final report in December of 2019. The report was astonishing! TN's corrections spending had increased by 33%, our length of prison terms increased, and our prison population grew by 12%, but the number of parole releases decrease from 2009 to 2018. Even though more people were being locked up for longer periods of time, there was no lowing of our recidivism rate (currently 47%) and we remained the fourth-highest violent crime rate in the United States.
The CJI Task Force offered over twenty suggestions to improve the criminal justice system in TN. Many of these suggestions becoming implemented in our current system where not as successful as we had hoped in 2020, but in the 2021 Legislative Session Governor Lee acted to move two proposals forward!
I had to honor of advocating for these two bills over the last year as a Justice Ambassador for Prison Fellowship and the founder of This is Living Ministries. I had multiple one-on-one meetings with senators and representatives to explain these bills and how they affect citizens who are criminal justice involved, our public safety, addiction, and re-entry needs.
The "Alternatives to Incarceration Act" expands access to safe prison alternatives, ensures reasonable pre-trial release conditions for those facing criminal charges, and establishes fair probation policies that limit needlessly lengthy terms or extensions.
The "Re-entry Success Act"creates rehabilitation and public safety-orientated parole policies, provides reentry supervision support to individuals about to re-join society, incentivizes local jails to provide rehabilitative programming, and removes unnecessary employment barriers.
On April 6th, 2021 I spoke at the TN Senate Judiciary Committee as a constitute of Senator John Rose. I testified for Senate Bills 767 & 768.
On April 14th, Sammy Perez of Prison Fellowship sent all the ambassadors this email, "We have been advocating for several bills this session. Recently, Senate Bills 767 & 768 passed out of the Senate Judiciary committee! Thanks to all who called, e-mailed, or conducted other outreach.
Also, big shout out to Lindsay Holloway, a fellow Tennessee Ambassador, who testified for this bill which directly impacted the advancement of this legislation. Her testimony spurred Vice-Chair White to question staff about the incorporation of Christian ministries on reentry. In addition, several members flipped their vote on this issue (to yes!), and Senator Rose mentioned the work of Prison Fellowship. Absolutely incredible!
You can watch the video of Lindsay Holloway's testimony at Minute 58:45 (Click on video, then Senate Judiciary Committee - Video link)"
These bills then went to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee on April 20th and were passed again. Finally on April 28, 2021 the TN State Senate unanimously approved these reforms! Both Acts will now be sent to Governor Lee to be signed into law!!
Hebrews 13: 3 "Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."
Won't our God do it! I am so grateful to be a part of such amazing ministries like Prison Fellowship and This is Living Ministries. They both fight for everyone to be given a second chance, to be treated with dignity, and to believe in our true identity in Christ Jesus.
I'm so thankful to be given the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to give a voice to those who have no voice! If you are interested in advocating for restorative justice, serving in prisons, or helping after incarceration, please contact us! We can help you get involved with us or another ministry that works towards building the Kingdom!
With love in Christ,