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What to know about the new criminal justice reforms


What to know about the new criminal justice reforms

On behalf of Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law | 

Now that the congressional session of the Tennessee General Assembly has ended, the state is facing some new changes. And for those facing criminal charges, or those who have already served time, some of these changes are good news.

Criminal justice reform was Gov. Lee’s priority this year

According to Knox News, Gov. Bill Lee pushed for many reforms in the way our state handles criminal justice. Some of these significant changes include:

  • Improving access to recovery courts and rehabilitation treatment for inmates
  • Offering education opportunities to inmates across the state
  • Providing inmates with classes to develop work skills

Lawmakers also had two primary goals this session:

  1. Reduce overcrowding in state prisons
  2. Decrease the level of second offenses that land individuals back in prison

So, the General Assembly also established a new law that gives Tennessee police officers the leeway to avoid arresting individuals for some non-violent offenses. Instead, the new law allows them to simply issue a citation.

The main victory? No more state expungement fees.

We have yet to see how all of these new reforms will impact the state. However, there is one new reform that could significantly affect several individuals with criminal records.

The General Assembly and Gov. Lee approved the bill that eliminates the $450 fee individuals had to pay for expungement. So, the path to a clean record just got a little easier.

What does this mean for Tennesseans?

Individuals with criminal records know about hard times. They understand how difficult it is to find jobs and even places to live. For many, expungement was a beacon of hope to achieve a clean slate. But even more could not afford the costs.

That all will change on July 1. Individuals may still have to pay local fees—usually up to $100—but that is nowhere near the now-eliminated state fee.

And of course, individuals will still need to be eligible for expungement. However, eliminating the financial obstacles gives a lot more people the chance to obtain a clean slate. This is a significant step forward to help individuals with criminal records move on after a criminal conviction.

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