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Total Correctional Population: 119,400

Number on Parole or Probation: 74,700

Number in Local Jail or Prison: 48,400

Incarceration Rate per 100,000 residents: 720

Incarceration Rate Rank: 12th

Corrections Share of 2018 General Fund Expenditures: 6.3%


“Correctional Populations in the United States, 2016,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

"2018 State Expenditure Report," National Association of State Budget Officers 

recently enacted reforms


Senate Bill 587: Removes certain limitations on using citation in lieu of an arrest.

House Bill 941/Senate Bill 797: Removes $180 fee for an individual petitioning the court for an expunction of certain criminal offenses; removes $350 fee for a defendant applying for expunction of an offense following the completion of a diversion program.


House Bill 2271: Juvenile justice reform: implements limits on length of custody; requires plan for uniform data collection from the judicial system and state agencies; expands performance-based metrics for providers; requires a validated risk-and-needs assessment to develop individualized case plans; invests in evidence-based programming and community resources.

Senate Bill 2465: Creates a uniform process that all occupational licensing authorities must follow before denying or refusing to renew a license based on the applicant or licensee being convicted of a criminal offense.

House Bill 2181: Requires the department of correction to make four grants to local county sheriff or probation departments to fund reentry programs that reduce recidivism and probation revocations.

Senate Bill 2384: Prohibits the nonpayment of county jail fees as a basis for the revocation of a person's driver license.


Senate Bill 16: Clarifies that a person petitioning for a certificate of employability does not have to be in the process of restoring the person's rights.

Senate Bill 802: Revises provisions governing payment plans and stays from license revocation for assessed litigation taxes, court costs, and fines.

House Bill 418: Reduces the expunction fee for criminal convictions from $350 to $180.

House Bill 577: Requires a court to inform a child of the need to file a motion for expunction of a juvenile record; requires the administrative office of the courts to create a motion that can be completed by a child; requires juvenile court clerks to make the model expunction motion available to all children.

House Bill 578: Requires expunction of certain juvenile records upon motion.



July 26, 2019

“Now is the time to double down on the strategies that are working.”

According to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of overdose deaths fell 4.2% in 2018, to an estimated 68,500 nationwide. Deaths related to opioids declined slightly, from 49,000 to 47,600, while those related to cocaine and psychostimulants increased from 25,800 to 28,700. Some of the steepest declines in overdose deaths came in Ohio, which saw a 22.1% decrease, and Pennsylvania, where 18.8% fewer deaths were reported. Eighteen states, including Arizona, Oregon, Tennessee and Louisiana, saw increases in fatal overdoses from 2017 to 2018.

June 28, 2019

“They need to be able to manage the demands of life. They need to have an education that prepares them for employment. They need to have positive relationships with others. They are not going to get any of that locked in a room somewhere.” 

“Not in Isolation,” a new report from the Center for Children’s Law and Policy and the Justice Policy Institute, looks at strategies for safely reducing the use of room confinement in juvenile detention facilities in Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Memphis, Tennessee. While approaches and tactics varied by jurisdiction, one common takeaway was the need for regular training on crisis intervention, adolescent development and de-escalating aggression. Each case study includes perspectives from facility and agency staff, program materials, examinations of challenges and lessons learned, and qualitative and quantitative results. 

May 17, 2019

“These people are our neighbors…It’s to all of our benefit to make sure that when they are released they are better prepared to be productive citizens.”

Rutherford County Correctional Work Center, partnered with local businesses to provide training in mechatronics, a mix of mechanical engineering and electronics. The center serves more than 180 incarcerated people, and works with outside employers on work release programs. As part of a request for $100,000 in additional funding, Superintendent William Cope predicted a reduction in the current recidivism rate of 32% for those released in the county.

March 22, 2019

“Data from our study can be used to develop national standards of care for incarcerated pregnant women ...”

A survey conducted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that nearly 1,396 pregnant women were admitted to prisons in 22 state prisons and the federal prison system over a 12-month period from 2016 to 2017, nearly 4% of all new female admissions. Rates of pregnancy prevalence for women who were incarcerated varied widely by state—from 4.4% in Vermont and 3.8% in Rhode Island to 0.4% in Mississippi and 0.2% in Tennessee. There were 753 live births, 46 miscarriages, and no maternal deaths. The survey is believed to be the first systematic assessment of pregnancy outcomes for women who are incarcerated.

March 8, 2019

“There is incredible support with very little opposition.”

According to new polling from the Justice Action Network, the ACLU of Tennessee and Right on Crime, 69% of Tennesseans believe the state’s criminal justice system “needs significant improvements,” 90% favored reducing prison time for nonviolent offenders and 89% favored getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences. Support for the reforms was strong across demographic and partisan categories. The promising poll numbers came just as Governor Bill Lee unveiled his criminal justice agenda, including eliminating the state’s $180 expungement fee, broadening  educational programming for incarcerated people, and expanding recovery courts.

January 4, 2019

“Justice prevailed here. It gives you hope that it can happen again." 

Matthew Charles, whose case was used to advocate for the First Step Act, became one of the law’s first beneficiaries when a judge ruled Thursday that he was entitled to immediate release. Charles, who was serving a 35-year sentence, was previously released from prison in 2015 but ordered back after federal prosecutors argued he was considered a habitual offender. Former Federal Judge Kevin Sharp approved Charles’ release in 2015 and mentioned the case to President Trump in a meeting discussing inequality in the justice system. He said this case was not unique: “There are thousands of them out there. We can’t quit.”

November 2, 2018

“Wealthy people can pay these fees and vote immediately, while poor people could spend the rest of their lives in a cycle of debt that denies them the ability to cast a ballot."

In seven states—Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida—people with unpaid court fines and fees are prohibited from voting. Other states require that all conditions of probation and parole, including the payment of debt, are completed prior to the restoration of voting rights. Individuals can be charged the for the use of a public defender, room and board while incarcerated, and conditions of probation and parole supervision, and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that nearly 10 million people owed more than $50 billion from contact with the criminal justice system.

July 27, 2018

“…I believe exercising the executive clemency power will helm further these individuals’ positive influence on their communities and the lives of fellow Tennesseans.”

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam granted clemency to four people this week, and said more pardons were in process. Three of the pardon recipients—Ralph Randall Reagan, Robert James Sheard, Jr., and Steven Lee Kennedy—were already out of prison; Michelle Lea Martin received a sentence commutation and will be released into supervised parole. Their convictions will remain on their records, but the Governor’s actions could facilitate expungement and help with employment, housing and certifications.

July 6, 2018

“If a person has no resources to pay a debt, he cannot be threatened or cajoled into paying it…”

A federal judge in Nashville has ruled that Tennessee’s policy of revoking drivers licenses over unpaid court fees is unconstitutional. In her ruling, Judge Aleta Trauger noted that driving was “a virtual necessity for most Americans,” and that suspensions made it more difficult for individuals to earn the money needed to pay court debts. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 146,000 people had their licenses suspended under the policy, and only 10,750 have had their licenses reinstated. 

July 6, 2018

“Having a conviction, even a minor one, it puts up another hurdle. We’re trying to give people a leg up.”

The New York Times profiles advocates and people with criminal records who are trying to navigate the state’s complicated record-sealing system. A new law, which took effect in October, allows New Yorkers with no more than two misdemeanor convictions or one non-violent felony and one misdemeanor conviction to apply for record sealing after 10 years. As of the end of May, only 346 people had had their convictions sealed. For a deeper dive into reentry and collateral consequences, June’s Federal Sentencing Reporter"Managing Collateral Consequences in the Information Age,” includes studies from Indiana, North Carolina, Nevada, Tennessee and California, as well as a state-by-state guide to expungement.  

June 29, 2018

“We treat too many affected individuals as criminals instead of getting them the treatment they need.”
A Nashville grand jury recommended increased training for law enforcement, teachers, and others who may interact with people in need of mental health treatment, to provide alternatives to incarceration. Metro Nashville police officers receive mental health crisis training, but rely heavily on mobile crisis response teams dispatched when a person exhibiting signs of mental illness poses a risk to themselves or others. To facilitate treatment and diversion, officials in Nashville are creating an inpatient facility for people experiencing a mental health crisis, set to open in the fall of 2019. 

June 29, 2018

“We believe that shedding light on state compassionate release programs is the first step to improving them.”
Families Against Mandatory Minimums released a report this week on the state of compassionate release programs across the country. They found a patchwork of policies, with incomplete, inconsistent and incoherent guidelines and rules. 25 states, including ArizonaIowaKentuckyMichiganMinnesotaNew YorkOhioPennsylvaniaRhode Island and Tennessee, have unclear or insufficient guidance surrounding their compassionate release programs for elderly incarcerated people, and Iowa has no formal compassionate release program at all. The report includes 21 policy recommendations to expand, improve, and publicize programs.  

June 8, 2018

“I’m feeling no handcuffs on me. I’m free to hug my family.”
Alice Johnson’s sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, and she was released from prison the same day. Johnson had served 22 years of a life sentence without parole for federal drug and money laundering charges. Her cause was championed by groups including #cut50 and CAN-DO, and by Kim Kardashian, who met with the President last week to discuss the case.

June 1, 2018

"This terrible tragedy has deprived a woman of her boyfriend, a food pantry of a reliable volunteer, and many of a beloved friend and family member."

The case of Matthew Charles dominated social media for much of this week, and for good reason. It exposes the nonsensical and at times jaw-dropping results of an inflexible, one-size-fits all justice system. After being released from federal prison two years ago, Charles became gainfully employed, reestablished ties with his family and community, began volunteering his time at a food pantry, and stayed out of trouble. This is everything we want from someone returning from prison. Unfortunately, federal prosecutors fought to bring him back to prison because sentencing modifications were erroneously applied to his sentence. He’s now behind bars once more because the federal justice system was unable to recognize the strides he had made. Thousands have signed a petition urging President Donald Trump to grant Charles clemency.

May 25, 2018

“…Addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.”

The AP’s Sharon Cohen visited women in jail in Campbell County, Tennessee, where opioids are prescribed at five times the national average, and the local prosecutor says as much as 90 percent of crime in the area is connected to drugs. The county jail, which houses an average of 60 women per day, offers a high school equivalency diploma program, but no addiction treatment, mental health counseling, or vocational training for women.

May 18, 2018

“In 2017, the U.S. prison population dropped below 1.5 million people for the first time since 2004.”

A new report from the Vera Institute showed that the U.S. prison population fell by 19,400 in 2017, continuing an eight-year trend of similar declines. Between 2016 and 2017, Maryland and Louisiana saw the largest single year decreases in their prison populations in a decade. Both states passed Justice Reinvestment Initiatives that reduced sentences and reformed parole and probation policies.  Twenty states, including Tennessee, Utah and Kentucky saw increases in their prison population over the same time period.

May 11, 2018

“What is needed for this youth and family to be in a better place in life than when they entered our system?”

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation calls for juvenile probation reforms that would divert more youth from the juvenile justice system to community resources, and transform probation into a more effective intervention for those who remain in the system. The report highlighted the successes of the City of St. Louis’s juvenile probation programs, which have contributed to a 59% drop in new charges for young people on probation, and pointed to diversion programs in Summit County, Ohio and Restorative Justice programs in Davidson County, Tennessee as potential models for reform.

April 6, 2018

“Tennesseans should not have their property seized without being charged with, or convicted of a crime.”

The Tennessee Senate unanimously passed a bill to reform the state’s civil asset forfeiture system, requiring formal notice of a property seizure or forfeiture-warrant hearing, clarifying the legal process to seek the return of seized property, and holding agencies responsible for attorneys’ fees in cases where they are found to have wrongly seized assets. This is the latest in a series of civil asset forfeiture reforms undertaken at the state level, including those passed this year in Idaho, Wisconsin and Kansas. Lawmakers in Michigan are expected to take up reforms when they return from spring break.

March 16, 2018

“We should all want our communities to be safer, but filling jail beds or prison beds has never proven to do that.”

Attorney General Sessions spoke to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Nashville this week, where he pledged to pursue longer sentences, and “reverse a trend that suggested that criminals won’t be confronted seriously with their crimes.” Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall pushed back, arguing that focusing on the underlying causes of crime will have a better long-term effect on the city. He is working with the district attorney, Nashville judges, and the public defender to shrink the jail population and provide treatment for mental illness and addiction.

January 19, 2018

“We’re convinced juvenile justice reform is the right answer for Tennessee.”

Following the release of the Tennessee Juvenile Justice Task Force report, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris called for significant reforms, starting this year. The task force, which examined the state’s juvenile justice system and best practices from states who have already implemented reforms, recommended a host of policies to prevent juvenile system involvement, focus system resources on high-risk individuals, and provide greater oversight and accountability.

December 22, 2017

"More than 27 percent in Nashville and more than 38 percent in Memphis are covered by such zones."

Reason Magazine takes a deep dive into drug free school zones in Tennessee, questioning whether these policies are having their intended effect. One finding: in Johnson City, Tennessee, “[o]verlapping drug-free zones leave only tiny areas—in this case, 472 square feet—uncovered in some neighborhoods."