What this bill does:
As amended, SB 7027/HB 7073 would dramatically change the way our state sentences children who make mistakes, taking away judges’ discretion to ensure that children receive services that could help rehabilitate them. This legislation is very complex and would have serious, life-altering consequences for young people in our state. It should not be rushed through into law in a special session, especially with the bill text constantly being amended and limited public access to review new versions. [NOTE: This document is based on the latest version of the bill as of the morning of August 24, 2023. As new versions become publicly available, we will post them on our website.]
As amended, SB 7027/HB 7073 would require the sentences of children who commit certain offenses to continue until at least their nineteenth birthdays. This takes away a judges' discretion to assess children individually – including consideration of a child’s experience as a victim of human trafficking, disability, or history of abuse or trauma – and determine when they have been sufficiently rehabilitated. It would even apply if it is a child’s first charge. In practice, this could mean that children as young as 14 will be sent automatically to a secure Department of Children's Services facility until they turn 19, regardless of whether a judge believes they have been rehabilitated or that it is in the child's or the community’s best interests. This legislation would also require the judge to sentence youth to an additional sentence of one to four years beyond their 19th birthday with the length of time depending on the severity of their offense. The bill provides a narrow path for the judge to suspend the remaining one to four years, but this additional adult sentence is triggered automatically by several broad occurrences. Some of these occurrences include if they: commit another offense (of any class, including a misdemeanor), engage in conduct that creates a substantial safety risk, fail to meet the conditions of supervision, fail to attend school regularly with passing grades or graduate from high school, or fail to obtain regular employment upon graduation from high school. If three or more of those conditions are met, the judge is required to order the child to serve an additional one to four years in adult prison. The bill also requires automatic transfers of children aged 16 and up to adult court if they are charged with first or second degree murder or attempted first or second degree murder, and if the judge finds probable cause that the child committed the offense and that the child is not committable to a mental health institution. This prevents judges from being able to assess on an individual level any mitigating factors such as whether a child could be successfully rehabilitated if they remain in the juvenile justice system.
TAKE ACTION: Urge your legislators to vote NO on SB 7027/HB 7073.
You can find your legislators’ contact information here: https://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/Apps/fml2022/search.aspx
- This legislation is very complex and could have serious, life-altering consequences, both intended and unintended, for young people. This bill will lead to more young adults in prison for offenses they committed – and already served full sentences for – while they were children.
- The bill is also unclear and will create chaos for juvenile judges across the state as they try to implement it.
- Legislation with such complexity and significant impact should not be rushed through the legislature in a matter of mere days without time for a thorough vetting of the language, discussion with stakeholders and experts, and analysis of the consequences these measures would have on young people in our state.
- Young people are still developing and when they make mistakes, they should be given opportunities for treatment, rehabilitation, and positive reinforcement. The juvenile justice system was created to protect and rehabilitate youth who have been found delinquent, creating better societal outcomes. Adult courts do not offer the interventions and rehabilitation for young people that juvenile courts do.
- Youth crime has decreased in Tennessee by over 50% since 2013 – we should not transfer more children to dangerous adult prisons and jails where they will be denied education and mental health care and be at increased risk of abuse.
- Research consistently shows that transferring youth to the adult criminal justice system makes them more likely to commit crimes in the future.
- While this figure may vary depending on the version of the bill that is ultimately taken up, it will likely cost the state a significant amount of taxpayer money. The fiscal note currently posted for the bill indicates it will increase state expenditures by $6.1 million this fiscal year and $11.6 million in the following fiscal year.