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“Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice” Launches Organizations From Across Political Spectrum Call for Criminal Justice Reform

NASHVILLE – Leaders from advocacy, business and social service groups with

constituents across the state came together today to launch the Tennessee Coalition for

Sensible Justice. The nonpartisan coalition is committed to advancing criminal justice

reform. Founding organizations include the American Civil Liberties Union of

Tennessee, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, the Tennessee Association of Goodwills,

and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“These diverse organizations from across the political spectrum came together because

we all agree that criminal justice reform is both necessary and urgent,” said Hedy

Weinberg, ACLU-TN executive director. “Our current criminal justice system is

functioning like a revolving door. We as a state can and must do better to ensure public

safety, fair treatment and equality in the justice system. This coalition will be a powerful

advocate for smart-on- crime policies at the legislature.”

The coalition will promote reforms that enhance public safety, promote rehabilitation

and re-entry, and save taxpayer dollars in order to create a just and fair criminal justice

system that offers every Tennessean the opportunity to become a productive member of


"Safety of all Tennesseans is our number one priority, and that is why we are supporting

criminal justice reform,” said Justin Owen, president and CEO of the Beacon Center of

Tennessee. “It's not about being tough or soft on crime, it's about being effective on

crime. We are spending entirely too much taxpayer money on a system that is not

working and is actually making Tennessee less safe. We look forward to working with

the other members of the coalition to push effective reforms that will get justice for

victims, save taxpayers money, and make our communities safer."

Tennessee’s incarceration rate is 11 percent higher than the national average as of 2014,

costing Tennessee taxpayers over $900 million annually. The state’s high incarceration

rate does not appear to correspond with a proportional increase in public safety: Even as

Tennessee’s imprisonment rate increased by 256 percent between 1981 and 2013,

Tennessee’s violent crime rate remains among the highest in the nation. However, in 33

states that have reduced imprisonment rates, there has been a 13% decline in crime


“Currently in Tennessee, 46 percent of people released from prisons or jails are re-

incarcerated within three years. Productive, paid work is the key to restoring their

dignity and stopping this cycle, but a felony record can be a daunting barrier to

employment,” said Matthew Bourlakas, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of

Middle Tennessee, Inc. “With the right kind of help, such as the many training programs

offered by Goodwill, these people can turn their lives around.” 

A recent poll shows that 95 percent of Tennessee voters agree that at least some reform

of the criminal justice system is needed. Seventy-one percent of voters believe that

people who have been to prison can turn their lives around with the right kind of help,

but nearly 80 percent believe that currently prison does not do a good job of

transitioning criminal offenders to become productive members of society.

“The number of workers retiring over the next decade is expected to be larger than the

number entering the job market,” said Ralph Schulz, president and CEO, Nashville Area

Chamber of Commerce. “For business, providing training and employment in a vibrant

labor market will be key to maintaining prosperity and that’s why our members support

this coalition.”

The coalition will initially pursue legislative initiatives focused on juvenile justice,

sentencing reform and recidivism reduction.

Prior to the legislative session, the group plans to hold a series of town hall meetings

and reach out to other organizations with an interest in criminal justice reform across

the state.


The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee is freedom’s watchdog,

challenging government abuse of rights and fighting for fairness in our laws and their

enforcement. We are dedicated to translating the guarantees of the Bill of Rights into

reality for all Tennesseans through community education, legislative lobbying, advocacy

and litigation.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee is a limited government nonprofit that empowers

Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version

of the American Dream.

The Tennessee Association of Goodwills works to enhance the dignity and quality

of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to

opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and

the power of work.

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is Middle Tennessee’s largest business

federation, representing more than 2,200 member companies. Belong, engage, lead,

prosper embodies the Chamber's focus on facilitating community leadership to create

economic prosperity for Middle Tennessee. The work of the Nashville Area Chamber is

supported by membership and sponsors; the Chamber’s Pivotal Partners (a partnership

at the highest level for all Chamber programs and events) are Delek US Holdings, Bass,

Berry & Sims, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Community Health Systems and

Ryan LLC. Together with its affiliates, the Nashville Chamber works to strengthen the

region’s business climate and to enhance Nashville’s position as a desirable place to live,

work and visit.

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