Criminal justice reform remains issue for Tennessee lawmaker

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – One of the Tennessee legislative issues largely put aside because of the pandemic this year was criminal justice reform.

Its a topic long talked about by state lawmakers and the issue is likely to be at the top of their agenda next year.

In a few words this week, Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton describes “tough but fair” as the broad goals of criminal justice reform. 

“You don’t want to have a revolving door, you don’t want to have recidivism,” said Speaker Sexton in an interview Monday with WKRN-TV. “I think you need to have tough punishment but you also need to be fair whenever they serve their time and they come out and give them the opportunity to be successful.”

That’s the big picture for criminal justice reform which has been a topic in recent years from Washington to states like Tennessee.

Case in point were the words from a lawmaker and Governor Bill Lee in December as criminal justice reform ideas were being considered.

“We cannot continue doing what we have been doing in the past,” said Franklin state representative Sam Whitson at groundbreaking of a home for women exiting incarceration.

Building more prisons may not be the answer says some lawmakers, but will resources be made available to help non-violent offenders? That’s the debate ahead says the House speaker.

“That means maybe some alternative sentencing, maybe helping them find a job when they come out…rehabilitation services,” added Speaker Sexton.

There are lofty goals for criminal justice reform bills that go right to the top.

“Improve our recidivism rate for one, and lower our crime rate at the same time,” Governor Lee told News 2 in December 2019.

But if COVID-19 lingers until next year, it will be uncertain how much progress can be made on criminal justice reform.

Governor Lee’s office has indicated he has been meeting with various lawmakers about another effort dealing with the issue.

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