By Brett Tolman and Julie Warren.


Where use of incarceration is concerned, thoughtful criminal justice advocates tend to draw a distinction between those to be “scared of” versus others “we are mad at.” This makes sense. Conservative leaders in Tennessee, led by Gov. Bill Lee, are enacting policies that recognize this distinction in order to improve the overall effectiveness of the state’s criminal justice system. 

The 2021 Tennessee legislative session brought comprehensive criminal justice reforms championed by conservative leaders. Right on Crime proudly supported these reforms for the immediate and long term, positive impact on public safety. Two bills championed by Governor Lee passed; the first, to expand and improve the overall effectiveness of alternative sentencing policies in Tennessee, and the other, the Reentry Success Act, will improve the likelihood of an individual’s successful integration back into the community following release. Moreover, Tennessee lawmakers joined law enforcement to champion policing reforms aimed at improving law enforcement training, and to address certain police practices relative to interaction with the community. 

While The Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference pushed for an expansive mandatory minimum regime to address truth in sentencing concerns, Tennessee legislative leadership took a far more measured approach. In so doing, lawmakers reinforced the distinction between violent criminals and nonviolent individuals who simply make made bad choices. House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally sponsored this legislative effort, now pending the Governor’s signature, to impose a mandatory prison sentence for specific sexual offenses. While Right on Crime generally remains adverse to mandatory minimum prison sentences, this bill not only targets offenses that directly undermine public safety, but also preserves the court or jury’s discretion to impose an alternative sentence if they find the facts justify the same. 

The wellbeing of victims must never be absent from conversations around criminal justice reform. In recognition of this principle, Right on Crime congratulates House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Senate Judiciary Chairman Mike Bell for the passage of a bill that provides victims a lifetime protective order against those convicted of violent crimes.  

There are critics who contend the effort of Gov. Lee and legislative leadership is “soft on crime,” and others who argue they were too tough” or did not go far enough. As conservatives, we applaud the measured, evidence-based approach of Tennessee leadership. Right on Crime will continue to partner with thoughtful leaders in their effort to see Tennessee lead the nation in conservative criminal justice reform.  

This article originally appeared in The Cannon Online