Last year at this time, we announced our 2017 legislative agenda — a set of fresh ideas and new policies focused on making Tennessee’s workforce stronger, helping more people attain economic self-sufficiency, and keeping our neighborhoods safer by reducing recidivism.
We are proud to report that, thanks to your tireless advocacy and the cooperation of many courageous and thoughtful Tennessee lawmakers, we made some terrific progress toward these goals. Because of our work together, it is now much less expensive to expunge certain types of criminal records, which in turn, helps Tennesseans find jobs, complete their educations, and contribute to their communities. We also worked to make it possible for multiple low-level, nonviolent offenses to be expunged, bringing much needed clarity to an aspect of the law that had unfairly kept many people locked out of employment for far too long.
We are proud of these achievements and grateful for everything you did to make them happen. Every phone call, email, letter, conversation, and social media post helped immensely.
But we all know that there’s more to do.
That’s why today Just City is announcing the next phase of our Agenda That Works for Tennessee: the bills and reforms that we’ll be seeking when the 110th General Assembly reconvenes in January.
Our 2018 legislative agenda picks up where we left off last year, and includes some new ideas that we believe will help make our criminal justice system smaller, fairer, and more humane.
- Reduce the fee for diversion expungements. This is the second half of the expungement fee reduction effort we introduced last year, and it finishes the critical work of lowering the fee that Tennessee requires for people seeking to have low-level, first-time offenses cleared from their permanent record after completing diversion. Our proposal would reduce the total expungement fee for diversions to $280, consistent with the conviction expungement fee reduction last year.
- Allow expungement of eligible convictions despite non-eligible convictions. In general, some types of convictions are eligible for expungement, while other types are ineligible. Under current law, in order to get an eligible conviction expunged, a person cannot have any ineligible convictions. A single conviction that is ineligible for expungement makes all convictions on a person’s record ineligible for expungement. The law should be changed so that eligible convictions can be expunged regardless of an ineligible conviction.
- Examine alternatives to money bail. Earlier this month, the Pretrial Justice Institute issued a report that gave Tennessee an “F” for its over-reliance on a money bail system that keeps thousands of people in jail for days, weeks, or even months simply because of their inability to pay. Many states are finding creative, data-driven ways to reduce or eliminate the use of money bail altogether, and we think Tennessee can be next. We propose that the state study alternatives and make recommendations to create a fairer, more sensible alternative.
As additional legislation is filed throughout the session, including an anticipated slate of juvenile justice related bills, we look forward to serving as a clear and consistent advocate for people affected by our criminal justice system — especially children and those who advocate for them.
Too often, our criminal justice system offers two different paths: one for the wealthy and one for the poor. This is an insult to our core values of fairness, decency, and equal protection under the law. Without some common sense reforms, far too many Tennesseans will remain trapped in an unacceptable and unsustainable status quo that eliminates opportunity, stifles economic progress, and fails to ensure public safety.
Just City exists to challenge this paradox. Instead of endlessly subsidizing broken systems which corrode our workforce, waste money, and make our neighborhoods less safe, we can design a new system in which everyone is supported, respected, and allowed to learn from their past mistakes.
Together, we can make our criminal justice system smaller, fairer, and more humane. If you agree and would like to help, please consider supporting our work at JustCity.org/give.
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