Community Supervision in Tennessee
BY JULIE WARREN
Tennessee’s community supervision system—including parole, probation, and community corrections—is a resource and system that if optimized and reformed could positively affect our prison population and help those incarcerated re-enter society successfully.
Currently, fewer and fewer inmates are released on parole. This means there is an ever-increasing number of inmates who are completing their entire sentence. This trend is concerning because those who complete their sentence are released into the community without any supervision as the Department of Corrections no longer has any jurisdiction after an inmate’s sentence has expired. Lawmakers should explore mandating some period of parole supervision for each inmate.
Second, Tennessee needs to reduce its probation terms. In Tennessee, judges often have the discretion to stack consecutive sentences resulting in an increased risk of violation, especially for a technical violation, which often leads to revocation and reinstatement of the original sentence. Tennessee must examine the laws dictating the duration of a probationary term with an eye toward shortening terms, or at least reducing the instances where the terms for separate charges are ordered to run consecutively. Moreover, Tennessee should consider requiring that, if a person is revoked, they receive some credit for time served in compliance while on probation.
Finally, there must be additional oversight and uniform guidelines imposed upon community corrections programs. Community corrections programs are administered locally and funded by the state Department of Corrections, but those participating are not technically within TDOC custody. Of those released from community corrections, 68.3 percent were revoked due to a violation of conditions. In fact, only 29 percent of those supervised in community corrections completed their terms. Lawmakers may wish to explore placing these programs under the supervision of the Department of Correction, which oversees probation and parole, to ensure the necessary oversight, structure, and accountability.
Governor Lee recently announced the creation of a special subcommittee that will specifically focus on improving community supervision. This is good news for fairness, public safety, and fiscal responsibility in Tennessee. All indicators show that Tennessee is now ahead of the curve and state lawmakers and policy workers should work to keep it that way.