NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Gov. Bill Lee’s (R-Tennessee) toughness on crime has been a topic of discussion among the Tennessee legislature.
“It’s time to have a conversation about plea deals. Soft-on-crime plea deals have real consequences, and they are preventable,” Lee said Friday morning. “Those consequences were on full display Wednesday night.”
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Last year, Lee signed two criminal justice reform bills into law. One of them created a supervision program for when offenders leave prison to help criminals get back on their feet.
Friday morning though, it was a bit of a different tone after the brutal crimes in Memphis.
“Make no mistake, we have to be tough on crime,” Lee said. “We cannot be soft on crime, that is a bad strategy.”
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) had some strong words on the subject.
“We’ve had, over the last two decades, a criminal justice approach that has been put in place by these soft-on-crime groups that want to tell the criminal, ‘We care about how you feel; we don’t want you to do this,'” he said.
Of course, the conversation over a solution is a little more complex.
Sexton and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) say they’re still in the process of getting a plan together before bringing it to Lee’s attention.
“Right now, it’s still fairly amorphous and, until we firm it up, we’ll have to wait to talk to him about it,” McNally said.
A 19-year-old is accused of the string of murders in Memphis. With that in mind, Lee says he spoke with Sexton yesterday about juvenile justice reform in particular.
“The vast majority of people in prison are going to get out, regardless of sentence length. The vast majority of people are going to get out,” Lee said. “The way that we work to rehabilitate them before they get out has a significant impact on whether or not they will repeat crime.”
The recidivism rate, the rate at which criminals are re-arrested, in Tennessee is about 46%.
To get that number down, Sexton offered up a few different solutions.
“Things to look at is speeding up the process, speeding up the process to trial. How is it lacking for years? Texas speeds it up,” he said. “Maybe we need to have bigger use of the death penalty.”
Sexton also suggested potentially taking away time for good behavior, the stipulation that time can be taken off a person’s sentence if they don’t cause problems within the jail. It would come on top of the Truth in Sentencing law that took effect this July.