Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice Wins Major Reforms

Affiliate: ACLU of Tennessee
May 9, 2017 1:00 pm

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NASHVILLE — In its first year of existence, the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice succeeded in getting three of the major bills on its legislative agenda passed, in the key areas of juvenile justice and driver’s license revocation reform.

The nonpartisan Coalition for Sensible Justice was launched last fall to enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation and re-entry, and save taxpayers money. The coalition’s diverse founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Goodwill Industries, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Tennessee County Services Association.

Justin Owen, CEO of the free market Beacon Center noted, “This has been an incredible debut by the Coalition for Sensible Justice, and the Beacon Center was proud to be a part of it. By passing these common sense reforms, we were able to save taxpayers money, make our streets safer, and give those already leaving prison a chance to become productive taxpaying citizens. We are proud of all we have accomplished in our first year and look forward to continuing to reform our criminal justice system in upcoming years.”

“Partnering with legislators from both sides of the aisle, the coalition was able to advance concrete reforms that will help young people and limited income Tennesseans better access jobs and education and get a chance to work their way out of the maze of the criminal justice system,” said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “It’s truly inspiring what we can accomplish when we come together from across the political spectrum to focus on creating policy changes that will significantly benefit residents of our state.”

In the area of juvenile justice reform, the coalition helped pass a law that requires judges to notify juveniles when they are eligible to have their records expunged or cleared. Another lowers the age at which juveniles may expunge their records from 18 to 17, in order to expand their educational and job opportunities.

The coalition also helped pass a law that reforms Tennessee’s current driver license revocation law. Currently, those who have served their jail time must pay off their court fees and fines within one year — or else have their driver’s license revoked. This new law allows people to keep their licenses if the loss of their license would cause them to experience extreme hardship in traveling to certain locations, such as school or work. This measure also allows people to keep their driver licenses if they have a payment plan in place with the courts for their fees and fines. In addition, the legislation allows a judge to waive fees and fines if the individual is indigent and unable to pay.

“People become productive, contributing members of society when they are employed and can access post-secondary education and training. We commend the General Assembly for passing legislation this year that will make it easier for rehabilitated Tennesseans to help solve our region’s growing workforce needs,” says Lee Harrell, Vice President of State Policy, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Goodwill is very pleased with the work completed by the Coalition for Sensible Justice thus far, and we are grateful for the opportunity to advocate for smart-on-crime reforms that create a just and fair criminal justice system in Tennessee. Productive, paid work is the key to restoring dignity and ending the cycle of incarceration, but a felony record can be a daunting barrier to employment,” said Matthew Bourlakas, president, and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee, Inc. “With the right kind of help, such as the many training programs offered by Goodwill, these citizens can turn their lives around.”

“It was very gratifying to work with the coalition this year on legislation. There are so many complex aspects of our criminal justice system it takes a broad based and diverse coalition of committed organizations and individuals to find solutions that will result in safer, more just and more prosperous communities for all Tennesseans,” said David Connor, executive director of the Tennessee County Services Association. “I am optimistic that real progress can be made and that Tennessee can become a leader on criminal justice issues.”

To read more about the Coalition for Sensible Justice and its legislative agenda, click here.

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