TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – As of Friday, July 1, it is required in Tennessee that certain violent offenders must serve the entirety of their jail sentences behind bars.
The Truth in Sentencing law touts a tough-on-crime agenda; meaning if an offender is sentenced to ten years in jail, they will spend ten years behind bars before becoming eligible for release.
Sen. Jon Lundberg (R) of Bristol co-sponsored the newly enacted Truth in Sentencing law alongside Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R). Lundberg said there needed to be consistency in sentencing statewide.
“A sentence in East Tennessee, versus Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee for the same crime, can result in three completely different sentences,” Lundberg told News Channel 11 Friday. “Let’s make something consistent across the board, and let’s make it tough.”
The law outlines eight violent sentences, which if convicted, offenders will now be required to serve 100% of their sentence.
- Attempted first-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Vehicular homicide
- Aggravated vehicular homicide
- Especially aggravated kidnapping
- Especially aggravated robbery
- Especially aggravated burglary
“What is the one thing we try to do more of than anything? We tried to keep Tennesseans safe. This bill, this law, will do just that,” said Lundberg.
For many Tennesseans who have been closely impacted by violent crime, the passage of Truth in Sentencing is a win.
“It’s definitely a day to be celebrated for all victims and their families,” said Debbie Locke.
July 1 marked a day of resounding thanks from people like Debbie; people who have lost their loved ones to crime. Locke advocated fiercely for the Truth in Sentencing law and is grateful to the lawmakers who listened.
“I just really want to thank them for getting this pushed through. They saw that it was the right thing to do,” said Locke. “For future families, they will not have to go through anything like what families in the past have had to go through.”
She is referring to an endless cycle of parole hearings where families of victims show up, beg a parole board to keep their loved one’s offender behind bars and then repeat the process over and over.
“It just exhausts your entire body. It takes everything out of you,” said Locke.
Debbie’s husband Mike Locke, a former Tennessee state representative, was hit and killed by a drunk driver.
Debbie fought through five parole hearings over seven and a half years to keep her husband’s killer, James Hamm Jr., behind bars.
Hamm was released this year after serving about half of his sentence.
Debbie knows Truth in Sentencing will not do anything to help her family. But she hopes the next family won’t go through what she did.
“You try so hard for loved ones that we have lost that we will never see again. This bill should bring some justice and definitely closure to those families,” said Locke.
This summer marks eight years since her husband was killed. Debbie believes the passing of Truth in Sentencing is now cemented as a part of his legacy in the Tennessee legislature.
House co-sponsor of the bill Rep. Bud Hulsey is a close friend to both the legislation and to Mike Locke.
Locke was out putting up campaign signs for Hulsey when he was struck and killed by Hamm.
Hulsey and Lundberg agree that for victims, Truth in Sentencing provides relief.
“This says to victims, ‘look, here’s 100%. You don’t have to worry about getting a call that so-and-so is up for parole. They are going to serve 100% of that sentence,'” said Lundberg.
The law still provides incentives for good behavior for offenders required to serve 100% of their sentence.
A person convicted of one of the above-listed eight offenses can still earn credits that can be used for increased privileges, reduced security classification or for any purpose other than reducing their sentence.
Critics of the law say it is expensive keeping these offenders locked up for so long.
Co-sponsor Lt. Governor McNally said in a statement, “The costs associated with the law are well worth the peace of mind offered to victims and the overall boost to public safety. “
Even though the Truth in Sentencing law was championed by many Tennessee Republicans, Governor Bill Lee did not sign it. He cited data arguing it is expensive and would not necessarily reduce crime.
Regardless, the law takes effect July 1 since it passed in both the House and the Senate.
The law also outlines 16 other convictions where offenders could be allowed to serve just 85% of their sentence based on good behavior. Those include:
- Aggravated assault if the offense involved the use of a deadly weapon
- Aggravated assault if the offense resulted in serious bodily injury to or the death of another
- Aggravated assault against a first responder or nurse if the offense involved the use of a deadly weapon
- Aggravated assault against a first responder or nurse
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Vehicular homicide
- Reckless homicide
- Aggravated kidnapping
- Involuntary labor servitude
- Trafficking persons for forced labor or services
- Aggravated robbery
- Aggravated burglary
- Aggravated arson
- Possessing or using a firearm or antique firearm during the commission of or attempt to commit a dangerous felony
- The manufacture, delivery, or sale of a controlled substance where the instant offense is classified as a Class A, B, or C felony and the person has two (2) or more prior convictions for the manufacture, delivery, or sale of a controlled substance classified as a Class A, B, or C felony prior to or at the time of committing the instant offense
- Criminally negligent homicide
Under the law, the additional 16 offenses require 100% of the sentence to be served unless the inmate earns a satisfactory program performance. In these cases, a person can receive credits for a GED or job training. These credits could be used for parole eligibility once a person has served a minimum of 85% of their sentence.