NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The number of people locked up in Nashville jails each day has been cut by almost half over the past nine years.

“We’ve been taking a very serious approach towards trying to make sure that we reserve the severe sanction of incarceration for people that we are afraid of,” said Davidson County District Attorney General, Glenn Funk.

According to the district attorney’s office, the daily population of locally incarcerated inmates fell from 3,151 per day in 2013 to less than 1,535 in August 2021.

Funk credited the decrease to innovations like the Steering Clear program. Previously, if someone was given a citation for driving on a revoked license, they would show up for court, or they would be assigned an amount of jail time, sometimes up to several months in jail for driving on a revoked license, even if they didn’t have a wreck, cause injuries, or commit any other crime.

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“Now, the first person they see before they even get booked and processed is they meet with a district attorney who then screens them, you know, ‘are they on probation? was there a wreck in this? Are they on probation for DUI? Because losing your license is part of the punishment for having a driving under the influence conviction,” Funk explained. “If they don’t have that, which is the overwhelming majority of folks, then we agree to pull the charge and dismiss the charge before they even get booked and processed.”

He added that this saved the collateral consequence of an arrest on their records like access to a job or housing.

“But then the person meets with the representative of not only the district attorney’s office, but the sheriff’s office, and we run the person’s driving history. And we find out from the Department of Safety what it is that they need in order to be eligible to get their driver’s license back. Sometimes it’s some fines and costs that might be able to be waived by a court,” Funk explained. “That’s part of I think the job of the justice system is to try to help folks figure out how to navigate government bureaucracy in a way that they can be successful in getting their license back and then successful getting their life back in order.”

The DA’s office reported that the incarceration rate for the offense has dropped from 18,000 inmate days per year in 2013 to less than 30 as of June 2020.

“There were a lot of minor offenses, non-violent offenses, things like simple possession of marijuana, driving on a revoked license, for which in the past Nashville and still in many other places around the country people are incarcerated in a way that does not promote public safety,” Funk said.

Another policy Funk touted was ending the prosecution of less than half an ounce of marijuana.

“When it comes to some of the lower-level things like marijuana use, that’s not good behavior. That’s not healthy behavior. I don’t want people to be smoking marijuana,” said Funk. “But at the same time, I don’t want to use the resources of the criminal justice system to get involved in that health issue. There’s also a disproportionate impact on how those cases have historically seen arrests and prosecutions. And I want to make sure that the system is fair.”

The incarceration rate for minor amounts of marijuana went from 5,148 days in 2014 to just 6 days in 2020.

“If I’m the kind of person who commits a murder or commits a series of armed robberies or does a rape, you know, sometimes I am such a threat that I would have to be incarcerated to make sure I did not continue that behavior. But on the other hand, we don’t want to have it where our jails are full of people who are not a real threat to public safety,” said Funk. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have less than half the number of people in our jails every night. Because we’ve been able to do that in a way that has not hurt public safety, where it’s actually been supportive of individuals in the community that’s led to less crime and more importantly, has led to more people being home with their families at night, or getting up and going to work the next morning.”

His office reported the reduction in daily inmate population created a saving to Nashville taxpayers of $155,000 per day and a yearly savings of more than $50 million. Funk said the Sheriff’s Office has been able to use that money for other programs like opening a Behavioral Care Center, staffing the Steering Clear office, and providing better training for deputies, while not having to ask for increases in their budget.

“We’re seeing a tremendous benefit as far as cost savings to our treasury,” Funk said. “But even more importantly, it’s the way that we treat our fellow citizens in Nashville, and the way we treat each other to where we’re building families and helping Nashville be a place where you want to grow a business as well.”