Tennesseans just gained an important ally in its effort to reform its criminal justice system with the newly formed bipartisan Ad Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice, chaired by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. The Task Force is comprised of representation from Gov. Haslam’s office, legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement, juvenile court officials, and representatives from key state agencies. Following a comprehensive study of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system, it is expected that the Task Force will recommend reforms that promote public safety, save taxpayers money, and also strengthening families and communities.
States like Kentucky, Georgia, Kansas, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Hawaii have engaged in similar efforts that have resulted in the enactment of effective juvenile justice reforms. For instance, Kentucky enacted reforms that include the diversion of low-level offenders from juvenile facilities to evidence-based programs proven to increase public safety. It is projected these reforms will decrease the “out-of-home population” of juvenile offenders by one-third and save $24 million in tax dollars that would have otherwise been spent on juvenile incarceration over the course of five years. In Georgia, reforms that invested in community-based programs as an alternative to juvenile incarceration are anticipated to avert approximately $85 million in correction’s spending around a five-year period.
The Tennessee Task Force will convene its first meeting today at noon, and then begin the compilation and review of data that will hopefully result in the enactment of effective juvenile justice reforms based on its recommendations as soon as the 2018 legislative session. While we await the findings of the Task Force, Tennesseans should be encouraged that our state is on the precipice of important reforms that will make our communities a safer and even better place to live.