Public Safety Act of 2016
In 2014, Governor Haslam established a Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism as part of the administration’s overall effort to reduce crime and improve public safety. The task force included stakeholders from across Tennessee and produced a report last year detailing recommendations to reduce crime and address the growth of the prison and jail population. Many of these recommendations were included in the recently announced multi-year public safety action plan developed by the Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet. The Public Safety Act of 2016 seeks to codify several of these action steps.
Why are these changes to Tennessee’s public safety laws needed?
The Governor’s Public Safety Subcabinet has identified key areas that are driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, and this legislation would establish mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of these most serious offenses as well as taking additional steps to protect victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 – or 40 percent – were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill would retool community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when noncompliance doesn’t rise to the level of a new criminal offense.
What are the key components of the bill?
Addressing Domestic Violence
This legislation would allow a law enforcement officer, with the consent of the victim, to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. Additionally, if a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection would be issued when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. A hearing would be held within 15 days of the automatic order of protection being issued.
A third and subsequent domestic violence conviction would become a Class E felony under this legislation. Third and subsequent domestic violence convictions are currently a misdemeanor. This proposed change would maintain the current minimum 90-day sentence for a domestic violence conviction.
Smart Changes in Sentencing
The Act would change the felony thresholds for property theft for a Class A misdemeanor, Class E felony and a Class D felony.
- Class A Misdemeanor: Current $500, Proposed $1000
- Class E Felony: Current $500-$1000, Proposed $1000 to $2500
- Class D Felony: Current $1000 to $10,000, Proposed $2500 to $10000
The legislation would also set the mandatory minimum period of incarceration to 85% for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances.
Ensuring Offenders are Properly Evaluated
This legislation would make a “validated risk and needs assessment,” designed by the Department of Correction, part of an offender’s presentence report and an item the judge must consider when sentencing a defendant. The legislation would require the department to conduct an updated validated risk and needs assessment at least annually for each offender under the department’s supervision.
Instituting Swift, Certain and Proportionate Sanctions
Sending offenders back to prison for violating supervision conditions when the violation is not a new criminal offense—particularly for non-compliant behavior such as missing appointments—is an expensive and ineffective means of addressing offender misconduct. Moreover, spending time in jail or prison can increase the risk of future offending, rather than decrease it.
The use of swift, certain and proportionate responses to non-criminal rule-breaking is a key component of an effective strategy to change behavior. The use of both sanctions for non-compliance and positive reinforcements for compliance has been shown to be a powerful tool in successful supervision, supporting positive behavior change and reducing recidivism.
This legislation would authorize the department to utilize a robust, structured matrix of both sanctions and incentives to facilitate compliance with the conditions of supervision by the more than 71,000 state probationers and parolees. Non-compliant behavior would result in the imposition of a proportionate sanction as a mechanism to return the probationer or parolee to compliance with supervision conditions. Sanctions would include, for instance, drug testing and rehabilitative interventions.
The use of graduated sanctions would be included as a condition of probation by the court with jurisdiction over the case. The sanctions system would also apply to persons released on parole.