Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil RightsPublished 4:00 a.m. CT Feb. 24, 2020 |Updated 12:40 p.m. CT Feb. 27, 2020
Debt related to criminal justice undermines aims of system
Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
This op-ed was voted on unanimously by members of the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
This legislative session, the General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee have an opportunity to enhance the quality of justice in our state while improving the well-being of communities throughout Tennessee. Policies designed to reduce recidivism in our criminal justice system improve public safety and benefit all Tennesseans.
The practice of assessing fees, taxes, surcharges and other costs on those involved with the Tennessee criminal justice system has grown substantially in recent years. Devised as a means of funding the system, these legal financial obligations, or LFOs, have become a challenging and unavoidable part of the penal experience for adults and juveniles.
Ashlee Sellars stands next to one of her favorite murals by artist Omari Booker, which says, "They tried to bury us. Little did they know we were seeds.” Sellars was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a crime she was a bystander to at 17 years old. She was released in 2017 and now works with a Nashville nonprofit aimed at "restorative justice." (Photo: Shelley Mays / The Tennessean )
Regrettably, LFOs can create a slew of negative, unintended consequences not only for justice-involved individuals, but for their families, neighbors and communities as well. Importantly, LFOs can undermine the ultimate aims of the criminal justice system — namely, to reduce crime and ensure that former defendants can become productive and well-integrated members of society.
In 2019, the Tennessee Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights investigated the practice of using LFOs in our state’s criminal justice system. The committee found that Tennessee’s system of LFOs runs contrary to the state’s policies of successfully reintegrating formerly incarcerated individuals and ensuring a just, fair and equitable criminal justice system.
242 Photos March political cartoons from the USA TODAY Network