Gov. Lee signs criminal justice reform, enhancing and increasing incarceration penalties

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Lee signed major criminal justice reform laws he says will help make communities safer while saving money.

Democrats say it’s one step forward and two steps back when it comes to certain laws being changed. Many are concerned over incarceration cost, mandatory minimums, and increased penalties.

“The legislature and the governor tried to walk the tight rope of protecting public safety, and facilitating treatment rehabilitation for convicted offenders,” Jim Todd, an attorney with Hagan Todd Law Firm said.

Todd is also a former prosecutor and says there’s some good to the reforms that loosen some sentences. “It helps people who are on parole succeed, I think it loosens the restrictions on those who need to get into what are called treatment courts for drug addiction or mental health.”

But some criminal justice reforms will strengthen mandatory minimums and increase incarceration time for certain offenders.

“With bills that cap the length of probation, I think you’re seeing some offenses being raised like manslaughter going from a ‘C’ felony to a ‘B’ felony,” said Todd.

The Alternatives to Incarceration Act and the Re-Entry Success Act are just two of dozens of legislation considered or signed into law.

“I think we’re moving in the right direction but we’re also taking some steps backward,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari (Memphis-D).

While Akbari supports some of the bills being signed by Lee, some of the truth in sentencing bills are causing concern.

“Tennessee crossed the billion-dollar threshold about three years ago for the cost of incarceration, which is higher than it’s ever been in Tennessee. Whereas our crime rates have not gone down,” she said.

The ACLU says 41 bills considered during the legislative session would result in an estimated net increase in state and local incarceration costs of more than $57 million.

“On one hand you have a governor saying that he wants to tackle criminal justice reform but on the other hand you’re saying we’re going to put more people in jail,” Rep. Vincent Dixie, a Nashville Democrat said.

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