Major public safety bills advanced in the Tennessee Senate this week, including the “Truth in Sentencing” legislation which strengthens protections for victims and their families.
Sponsored by Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), the proposal would ensure certain violent or sexual offenders serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed by a judge or jury.
It affects offenses that historically target women and children such as rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and trafficking for a commercial sex act.
“Part of criminal justice reform is drawing a bold, bright line between those crimes for which we can show mercy and allow some flexibility in sentencing and those we cannot,” said Lt. Gov. McNally. “Certain crimes are so heinous and take such a toll on victims that there can be no leniency. More and more, the actual sentences being served by rapists, child molesters and sex traffickers are being reduced, often significantly. That practice must end, and this bill ensures it.”
While the legislation does not remove judicial discretion, it ensures that parole or probation are not options for those found guilty of crimes that fall into these categories. The person will still be permitted to earn eligible credits which increase their privileges, reduce their security classification, and any others which do not reduce the sentence imposed on them by the court.
“This bill is the first attempt I have really seen to put truth in sentencing in Tennessee law,” added Senator Bell. “It specifically addresses sexual assault sentencing and crimes against children to strengthen our statutes, protect victims, and ensure sentences imposed on offenders of these crimes are not reduced by credits.”
While the average sentence currently imposed on a person convicted of rape is 7.05 years, only 4.64 years are generally served. Similarly, the average sentence for a person convicted of sexual battery is 3.26 years, with generally 2.41 years served.
The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration of the cost.