Criminal Justice Reform Will Restore Families


January 12, 2017 10:23AM

As we noted in the release of our Poverty-to-Prosperity plan for Tennessee, there are a few key ingredients to success in life. One ingredient is a stable, intact family. If you ask those who suffer from poverty what is tearing families apart the most, their overwhelming response would be the criminal justice system.

An astonishing one in nine Tennessee children has had a parent in jail within the last year. State lawmakers can help keep families together by reforming our criminal justice system, fostering a way forward for those leaving prison to provide for their families and become productive members of society.

We must realize that we cannot successfully treat mental health and substance abuse problems as purely criminal justice issues. Locking a drug addict up with a hardened criminal does not solve his problems, and it costs us a ton. (The average cost of housing an inmate is twice the median mortgage payment in Tennessee.) Instead, we should focus on programs that treat these problems appropriately, focusing our corrections resources on those who are the most dangerous to society’s safety.

We must also realize that most of those in prison will leave someday. We can either make it harder for them to integrate back into society, which increases costs and makes us less safe, or we can eliminate unnecessary barriers that prevent them from becoming productive, taxpaying citizens. Right now, nearly half of those leaving prison in Tennessee return within three years. By increasing their chances at success and re-integration, we can also protect public safety and save taxpayer money.

In the end, reforming our criminal justice system will keep families together, further enhancing the opportunities for Tennesseans to move from poverty to prosperity. To learn more about our bipartisan coalition in support of sensible criminal justice reform, visit