On Thursday, the Tennessee House passed a bill increasing parole eligibility and reducing parole violation punishments for inmates. The “Reentry Success Act of 2021” creates a presumption that eligible inmates must be granted parole on their eligibility date.
Additionally, parole violations that aren’t felonies or Class A misdemeanors would result in 15 days’ imprisonment for the first violation, 30 days for the second, 90 days for the third, and either one year or the remainder of the prisoner’s sentence for the fourth – whichever is the shorter of the two. Other changes to present law under the Reentry Success Act of 2021 include clarification that victims may submit videos for their victim impact statements, and waiving certain application costs for restricted drivers licenses. Felonies or Class A misdemeanors committed as part of parole violation would require prisoners to serve out the maximum of their sentence.
State Representative Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) sponsored the bill. During the final House floor vote, he explained that 95 percent of inmates will reenter society at some point, and that the Reentry Success Act of 2021 would help more inmates have a reentry plan.
“Nobody is talking about giving a handout here. This bill helps people who want to help themselves,” asserted Curcio.
A total of five amendments were introduced on the bill: the first was withdrawn, the second and third were adopted, and the fourth and fifth were tabled.
The tabled amendments were introduced by State Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris). His amendments requested to allow parole boards to sentence someone up to 90 days’ incarceration for anything less than a Class A misdemeanor. He argued this was a better incentive to reduce recidivism.
“What all we’d be doing is giving more discretion to the board of paroles to determine how to address this individual who’s on parole,” explained Griffey.
In response, Curcio argued that 90 days was too long. He explained that the goal of this legislation is to improve the shock effect of incarceration, or “shock effect,” on criminals to jolt them out of recidivism – not put them away for so long that they lose their homes, jobs, loved ones, and anything they could use to rebuild their lives after they leave prison.
“I would just suggest to this body that the numbers that we built into this bill were toiled over, and we did not arrive at these lightly,” said Curcio.
Griffey responded that the amendment wouldn’t require 90 days of incarceration – it would give parole boards that option, while serving as a fear-based motivator for parolees to not reoffend.
Only Griffey voted against the bill.
The Reentry Success Act of 2021 is awaiting assignment by the Senate Calendar Committee for third and final consideration on the Senate floor.
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