Removing Barriers For Re-Entry
BY JULIE WARREN
In an ideal system of justice, every ex-offender is afforded the opportunity to make the most of their re-entry by earning gainful employment and a genuine shot at becoming a productive member of the society. Unfortunately, in Tennessee, as in many jurisdictions, the reality is that ex-offenders attempting to re-enter the workforce are often not given that opportunity. In addition to criminal penalties and social stigma, ex-offenders are slapped with a bill for court costs and fees upon exiting the system that can total thousands of dollars, and that must be paid within one year of their release. Failure to satisfy this financial obligation results in the revocation of their driver’s license, making it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for an ex-offender to secure, or otherwise maintain employment.
Reforms are necessary if we are to break the perpetuation of this cycle. One such reform currently pending before the Tennessee Legislature, SB 802 and HB1173, is championed by the Tennessee Coalition for Sensible Justice. The bill seeks to repeal the automatic revocation of an ex-offender’s driver’s license if he/she is unable to pay without undue hardship. This legislation creates alternatives to automatically taking away the license of ex-offenders by focusing on reasonable alternatives, including longer term payment plans. Not only does Tennessee boast one of the highest recidivism rates in the country, but since Tennessee’s inception of the license revocation policy in 2012, approximately 146,211 driver’s licenses have been revoked due to unpaid court fines and only 7% of those licenses have been reinstated. Since the public safety of Tennesseans relies on re-entry reforms, particularly a repeal of the license revocation policy, I am optimistic that the Legislature will choose this fair and balanced approach to driver license reform.