Local and statewide organizations sent the below letter to state elected officials, Memphis Mayor Paul Young, and other Memphis/Shelby County leaders to set the record straight on what “blended sentencing” (as proposed in HB0430) truly means for our young people. As amended by Speaker Sexton, blended sentencing could result in children as young as 14 years old getting sentenced to an automatic five years in adult prison upon turning 19, without the right to a jury trial and even if they have not committed another offense.

A representative from our coalition hand-delivered the letter to HB0430 / SB0624’s sponsors, Rep. Mark White and Sen. Brent Taylor, during the People Against the State of TN rally on Wednesday, April 17. Today (Thursday, April 18), we sent it to Mayor Young, Mayor Harris, DA Mulroy, Judge Sugarmon, and other Memphis/Shelby County Leaders to correct misinformation and misunderstanding about blended sentencing that continue to proliferate in our community. The disturbing (and potentially unconstitutional) measures in this bill demonstrate the dangers in ongoing encouragement for the state to pass tough-on-crime legislation, as we saw with the recent letter to Gov. Lee from the Memphis Chamber and Chairman’s Circle.

We all want to see the thriving, flourishing, future-ready Memphis that Mayor Young outlined in his 100 Days Address, but throwing our young people into a cycle of punishment without a chance for rehabilitation will not lead us to that inspiring vision. We encourage our local elected and unelected leaders to do everything in their power to fight this bill in favor of enacting and funding restorative, rehabilitative, and preventive solutions.

Dear Shelby County and Memphis Leaders,

We are writing as your constituents and organizations concerned about community safety and rehabilitation for our youth. Many of our organizations and community members from various stakeholder groups have called for a means through which rehabilitative services can be provided to youth after their 19th birthday, without sending those youth to adult prison facilities.

Some of these organizations have also expressed support for an alternative to transferring youth to adult court when they are accused of committing serious offenses, particularly when they are close to aging out of the juvenile system. Generally referred to as “blended sentencing”, the term has referred to a broad range of potential policy implementations that may or may not align with goals to support youth, increase safety, limit harm, and prevent net widening for young people into the adult system.

Unfortunately, current legislation being presented as blended sentencing legislation does not meet these goals. We believe it is important to be clear on the current bills making their way through the legislature and encourage our elected leaders to stand against those that do not deliver on the initial promise of “blended sentencing.”

For months, HB0430 has been marketed as the blended sentencing proposal that would establish a rehabilitative alternative for youth considered for adult transfer. We are tremendously concerned and disappointed that the current bill does not deliver on this promise, primarily due to amendments from Speaker Sexton. Instead of creating alternatives to transfer, the bill:

establishes a new mandatory transfer pathway,
explicitly authorizes youth to be incarcerated in adult prisons without the right to a jury trial,
and forces judges to incarcerate youth in adult prisons after they have completed their juvenile sentences, even if they have not committed any new offenses.

As amended, this bill increases harm to youth, removes due process, and opens the floodgates to send young people to adult prison. In short, the bill now bears little resemblance to what we originally believed blended sentencing would bring to our community.

While we were told that blended sentencing could help to reduce youth imprisonment and recidivism by providing new rehabilitative services for young people within the juvenile system without the need to transfer them to adult prison, there is no funding attached to the bill for anything other than incarceration. The fiscal note on the bill dated March 5, 2024 has no mention of new spending on rehabilitative services, supervision, community-based services, or anything other than custody provided by the Department of Children’s services for youth while they remain in the juvenile system. Simply stated, the state fiscal assessment says that this bill will provide no new funds that might help prevent a young person from being sent to adult prison.

Similarly, we were told that blended sentencing could support young people by extending juvenile jurisdiction to provide a more developmentally appropriate environment and additional supports for emerging adults under 25. Once again, there is no language in the bill about rehabilitative services for youth over 19, only a statement that the youth will be committed “to the supervision of the department of correction” and that the youth “in a secure facility must be housed separate and removed from the general population.” The state fiscal assessment determined this bill will REQUIRE increased incarceration expenditures by the Department of Correction for youth over 19. This portion of the bill seems to be half-baked based on the promised solutions blended sentencing could provide, and ends up being a proposal to simply incarcerate young people in adult prisons under the false claim of “rehabilitation.”

From our analysis, HB0430 will not meet the calls from community members, organizations, and elected officials for increasing safety, decreasing the direct transfer of youth to adult prison, and increasing youth rehabilitation opportunities. As it currently stands, the bill clearly does not align with our shared commitment to fostering environments where young community members can learn from their mistakes and grow into responsible adults.

We must challenge proponents of blended sentencing to safeguard the rights and rehabilitation of our children. We encourage you to stand against any proposal that fails to affirmatively answer the following essential questions. This list serves as a quick and straightforward litmus test to evaluate the merits of proposed blended sentencing legislation:

  1. Is the proposal limited to older youth who have committed serious offenses who might otherwise not have time to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system?
  2. Does the proposal provide additional resources and opportunities for rehabilitation to reduce recidivism and improve access to education, employment, and other outcomes for young people?
  3. Does the proposal avoid mandatory transfers of youth to adult court or adult facilities, allowing for individualized consideration based on the specifics of each case?
  4. Are there due process protections comparable to those in transfer proceedings before a youth is sent to adult court, ensuring that we are not creating an easier path to adult prison with less due process?
  5. Do young people have an explicit right to counsel in all proceedings?
  6. Is there a presumption that the adult sentence is suspended unless the state actively seeks its imposition?
  7. Do the criteria for deciding whether a youth will receive the adult portion of their sentence offer multiple avenues to demonstrate successful rehabilitation, avoiding triggers based on non-criminal behavior?
  8. Does a youth have the right to petition for a review of their sentence?
  9. Does the adult sentence include probation, parole, or other community based options that allow youth to reintegrate into society?

Recognizing that HB0430 cannot answer “yes” to these questions, we should ask every proponent of the original promise of “blended sentencing” where they stand on ensuring that any final law meets these requirements. This may be Speaker Sexton’s version of blended sentencing, but it is not what we have discussed for the last two years. We encourage all of our elected officials and community leaders who have expressed support for blended sentencing in the past to let it be known that this is not the form of blended sentencing that Memphis & Shelby County want or need.

In Support of Safety and Our Young People,

ACLU of Tennessee
Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)
Just City
Memphis Artists for Change
Memphis for All
MICAH – Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope
Shelby Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium
Stand for Children – Tennessee
The Equity Alliance
Whole Child Strategies
Youth Justice Action Council (YJAC)

As individual and organizational community stakeholders on the ground in Memphis, we are extremely concerned about HB 7073 – introducing a new, harsh blended sentencing scheme, as well as mandatory transfer to adult court, is not the answer to gun violence, and the bill is far too complex to consider in this short of a timeframe. While many of us have been engaged in conversations about sentencing reforms for older youth, such as blended sentencing or extended jurisdiction, the details of such a consequential change matter. 

Some representatives from the suburbs outside of Memphis and other parts of the state say that they are doing this “for the people in Memphis.” But the state representatives directly from Memphis and those of us on the ground are telling anyone who will listen that we do not want HB 7073. Here in Memphis, we don’t want to just do “something” for false appearances–we want to do the right thing for our young people and families across the state. Dwelling on this bill any further is a wasted use of time that should have been spent on protecting our children and communities with common sense gun safety legislation.

The concept of blended sentencing, which some stakeholders support, is for courts to have the ability to give older youth accused of serious offenses a juvenile court sentence and a suspended adult sentence that only comes into play if a youth is not able to be rehabilitated during their time in the juvenile justice system. As written, HB 7073 not only allows – but requires – juvenile courts to impose  years-long prison sentences on youth for offenses committed as young as the age of 14 without a jury trial or other due process safeguards, and does not allow the court to consider potential for rehabilitation in imposing that sentence. HB 7073 does not include any provisions for additional rehabilitative programming; the fiscal note of this bill only mentions increased expenditures related to incarcerating young people for longer. 

The Senate refused to consider more than 100 other bills in this special session because they were too complex to rush through in a matter of days, and HB 7073 is no different. We have only had the text of this bill for a little over a week. If we rush this bill through without properly vetting it and getting input from a wider range of experts and stakeholders, we run the risk of violating our young people’s constitutional rights. Blended sentencing schemes have been subjected to constitutional challenges in other states–careful drafting is necessary to ensure that constitutional rights of youth are protected.

HB 7073 is equally–if not more–complex than some of the others that were rejected, and it will have devastating impacts on a whole generation of young people and families across the state if allowed to go into effect as written and without more careful consideration. Sentencing reform is a topic that should wait until the regular session so that stakeholders not just in Memphis–but across the entire state–can weigh in on this important issue.

Organizations Signed on as of Monday, August 21:

A. Philip Randolph Institute

ACLU of Tennessee

African American Clergy Collective of TN (ACCT)

Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)

The Education Trust – Tennessee 

The Equity Alliance

Germantown Democratic Club

Just City

Memphis for All


NAACP Memphis 

Stand for Children Tennessee

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Whole Child Strategies

When the governor announced the call for the extraordinary session on public safety, advocates and juvenile justice stakeholders were shocked to see only one item specifically related to guns, while 4 out of the 18 items listed were focused on juvenile courts, including expanding transfer to adult court, limiting expungements, and introducing a new blended sentencing scheme. When pressed on why, Republican leadership has deflected, saying that youth are responsible for a lot of crime. But their numbers simply don’t add up. 

Legislators claim over and over again that youth in Shelby County are more dangerous than ever, despite steady annual declines in youth arrests, and despite the fact that Shelby County’s rate of juvenile court referrals is lower than the state average. There is no data source that shows that youth are primarily responsible for Tennessee’s increase in gun violence–in fact, the data suggests that youth crime is unrelated. 

Over the past decade, crimes committed by youth in Tennessee have fallen by over 50%, for both serious and lesser offenses. Yet according to the Sycamore Institute, firearm related deaths in Tennessee have been steadily increasing for the past decade, and the Tennessee Department of Health’s 2023 Child Fatality Annual Report shows that firearms are the leading cause of death for children aged 0-17. This data shows us that youth are not the problem – widespread and unregulated access to guns is the problem.

The Sentencing Project, a national nonpartisan think tank, analyzed over a decade of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data, and found that the youth arrest rate has fallen 23% more than the adult arrest rate since 2011. They concluded that the data suggest that the juvenile system is more effective in reducing offending and arrests than the adult criminal justice system. Proposals to move youth into the adult system are likely to increase offending.”

Youth crime is down, and the data suggests that the juvenile justice system is more effective at reducing crime than the adult criminal justice system. So why are our elected representatives holding closed-door meetings to push more young people into the adult system instead of answering our direct calls to take action on gun violence?

Source: Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

The most extraordinary parts of this special session are its lack of transparency and scapegoating of Black youth in Shelby County. Make no mistake, we absolutely need to make improvements to continue supporting youth and families impacted by the juvenile justice system, expand prevention services, and keep our communities safe. But the positive changes we want to see will not come from a session in which legislators are using our young people as talking points to mask their continued refusal to respond to calls for common sense gun reform. 
No matter what happens during this special session, let’s make sure the legislature knows that we want and need common sense gun legislation to keep our children and communities safe. You can show your support by signing the petition launched by youth organizers in our community from the MICAH Youth Council: bit.ly/EndGunViolenceTN. It’s time for our legislators to realize that youth are not the problem—they’re leading the way in creating the solutions.

City redistricting determines which neighborhoods get resources and representation, and thanks to your emails and advocacy over the past year, the City Council answered our calls for a public redistricting process!

Earlier this year, we teamed up with the Shelby County Voter Alliance to gather support for including community voices in how our city’s maps are drawn, and we ramped up our efforts in September after the City Council voted to approve a new map drawn by unelected city attorney Allan Wade. We were told that the redistricting process would be an open one, redistricting meetings would appear clearly on the Council agenda, and that public input would be welcomed, but the new map was rushed through after meetings behind closed doors ahead of the special election in November to fill the District 4 seat vacancy.

In fact, this map was approved even though the August 23rd meeting was the first time the public–and even some of the Council members–had seen the proposed changes. Redrawing maps behind closed doors is undemocratic and shuts all of us out of important decisions that will affect our families, neighborhoods, and communities for the next decade. To get the word out and spur people to take action, we held a press conference and sent out a mailer to households around Memphis. We weren’t disappointed–Memphians flooded City Council members’ inboxes with emails calling for a fair process, and in October, City Council responded by passing a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas to establish a public redistricting committee! 

The first public committee meeting was held on Tuesday, December 13, and we’re very much looking forward to the maps and community-centered insight they’ll bring forward in the new year ahead of the city elections.

The Moral Budget Coalition came together during the 2021 Shelby County Budget cycle after seeing a need for including community voice in the funding priorities. We continued that work during the 2022 cycle by establishing the first-ever Community-Centered Budgeting Process. This process reflects individual, family, and neighborhood needs and calls on residents themselves to identify funding priorities and potential solutions based on their experiences.

To learn what the people of Shelby County prioritized most, we developed and distributed a survey and received over 300 responses. By a wide margin, respondents listed education as their top funding priority, followed by a tie for healthcare, mental health services, and housing. We then held a public session with the Mayor, County Commission, and community members to discuss the survey results and provide an opportunity for the community to get more information from the County government. 

We still have work ahead to make sure the County (and eventually City) Budget matches the priorities of the people, and our long-term goal is to get a resolution passed that officially and meaningfully embeds Community-Centered Budgeting into the official Shelby County Budget Process. We are now looking ahead to 2023 and working with the Shelby County Office of Innovation to increase transparency and meaningful collaboration between the government and the people they serve. We will provide more updates in the new year about where the process stands, and we look forward to increasing community engagement with the budget.

Schools should be a safe place for all students, regardless of their identities. But Tennessee’s anti-truth, anti-LGBTQ+, and censorship laws deny our children that safety by putting them at risk of immediate and future harm and leaving them with an incomplete, whitewashed version of history.

During the last legislative session, we worked closely with the Education Trust – Tennessee (EdTrust) and RALLY to implement a statewide digital campaign to advocate against several censorship bills. One of our big wins was when we successfully defeated HB/SB 1944 in partnership with the TN Youth Coalition. This bill would have removed certain books from school libraries that are written from or about people of color, discuss race, or tell LGBTQIA+ stories. 

EdTrust worked with the students at the legislature in Nashville to coordinate their efforts, while Stand worked on the ground in Memphis, where the main youth organizers were from, to support their organizing and advocacy strategy. We supported the youth in developing a digital action, holding a press conference, and visiting the legislature multiple times. These efforts culminated in their powerful testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, which helped give the final blow to defeating HB/SB 1944. 

Even though we defeated this bill, several other censorship bills still passed into law, threatening our students’ rights to an accurate, truthful, and complete education. We will continue to fight upcoming bills alongside our youth and our partners in EdTrust during the 2023 Legislative Session, and we look forward to more wins.

No matter our color, background, or zip code, voters should pick their leaders, not the other way around. We marked this Martin Luther King Day by partnering with Civic TN to gather signatures for a petition that tells our legislators that we need a fair redistricting process that keeps communities together and strengthens our voting power.

Every decade, we the people are supposed to get the chance to draw new district lines that will move us closer to “one person, one vote” and give our communities equal access to the decision-making processes that determine resources for schools, hospitals, roads, and other essential services that our government is supposed to fund. 

But that’s not what happens. 

More than 50 years after Dr. King started calling for fair redistricting, we are still fighting the same fight. Right now, a small handful of Tennessee’s politicians are taking it into their own hands to redraw districts across the state behind closed doors. Without public input and accountability, these politicians are free to draw districts that serve their own needs, often splitting up communities of color and weakening their voting power. A fair redistricting process is directly connected to voting rights, racial justice, and economic justice, and we must speak up as loudly and as often as possible to change this undemocratic process.

The districts that get drawn this year will shape our lives and communities for the next decade, and these unconstitutional maps will be up for a vote in both the State House and Senate as soon as Thursday, January 20. We need as many of you as possible to tell our lawmakers that nobody knows our communities better than the people that live in them, and we the people need to have a say in how our districts are drawn. Please continue the work to honor Dr. King by taking action with this petition and contacting your legislators to call for a fair and transparent redistricting process!

Distinguished Members of the Shelby County Commission,

The Moral Budget Coalition thanks you for the ongoing conversation around participatory budgeting, and are thankful to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris for including several essential investments identified by the Moral Budget Coalition, including Youth & Adult Mental Health, Targeted Direct Outreach to Connect Residents with Programs, the Homeless Flexibility Fund, and Broadband Access & Planning for At‐Home Learners in Underserved Communities, in the Administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget.

Investing ARPA dollars in these areas will directly impact our most vulnerable neighborhoods, families,  workers, and students to live a more equitable quality of life. We will continue to advocate for other vital community needs that are not yet addressed by these county investments.

The needs of our community are vast, and we hope that if there are amendments made to this proposed budget, they are made to allot additional funding to investments aligned with a moral budget. In particular, we have worked to highlight the need for commitments to fund public transit, affordable housing, education, and relief for our service industry workforce. Looking forward, we know the process and schedule for next years budget will be decided upon soon, and we have been working with members of the commission and the Mayor’s office to codify a participatory budgeting process for FY2023 that would involve the community and government in an intentional collaboration to create a budget that is truly reflective of our community’s values and needs.

The allocation of ARPA dollars is an opportunity to invest in people. We urge you to support critical ARPA investments that directly support working people and those most vulnerable in our community.

Thank you,

The Memphis/Shelby County Coalition for a Moral Budget

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies 

Our change partners Bridge Builders Change: Counselors, Not Cops, and the Shelby County Youth Council need your help in asking Shelby County Schools Board to end the district’s contract (MOU) with Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. The termination of this contract would ensure that our young people are spared unnecessary contact with the justice system. In addition, removing Sheriffs from our schools and replacing them with service providers such as school counselors, social workers, and other services that our students need would create a supportive, caring, and positive learning environment in the classrooms and hallways during school hours.

Dear Commissioner Schwinn,

We, the undersigned, as members of the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, believe that Tennessee must act with urgency to protect our children and their ability to attend school safely and in person. Our collective mission is to ensure that Tennessee’s students thrive and succeed in every corner of the state and one of the key priorities in our shared policy agenda is to “address the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and well-being.” We believe that we share that priority with the Tennessee Department of Education (the Department) as well.

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education for all Tennessee students, but it has hit our most vulnerable populations the hardest, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.1 There is clear evidence that the impact of the pandemic on children has been and will continue to be substantial, and the effects are likely to be detrimental to students’ long-term academic success unless they are offered both effective and targeted strategies.

We believe students are best served by in-person learning. However, this pandemic is surging to new heights, with the Tennessee Department of Health reporting that children represent nearly 40% of all positive cases in our state, and Tennessee has recently led the nation in pediatric COVID cases per 100,000.2  Far too many students and teachers across the state are missing school this fall, with more than 25 districts having closed due to the rising case numbers. Given the current state-mandated limits on virtual learning, when entire school districts close without additional options for learning, they are forced to halt instruction entirely for all students, including the most vulnerable.

Schools in Tennessee learned valuable lessons about teaching students remotely when we made the pivot to virtual learning last year as well as procedures for mitigating the spread of the virus. We now have many more tools and strategies at our disposal, which must be fully allowed and utilized. Parents across the state, including parents we represent, are fearful of sending their children to school under the current protocols, and are frustrated by the lack of learning when schools are closed.

We appreciate the steps you have taken to address some of the challenges districts, schools, students, and families are currently facing. However, to further mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on student health and learning, we urge you to do the following

  • Provide additional guidance on the Department’s temporary virtual school waiver application process, including:
    • Offering clarity on eligibility criteria and transparency on review and approval procedures
    • Providing timely responses so districts may plan in order to avoid a penalty or the loss of stockpiled days
    • Clarifying that districts can request a pivot to remote learning for individuals schools, including up to the total number of schools in their district in order to stop or slow the spread of the virus or in response to inadequate staffing
  • Offer guidance to district leaders and educators, including:
    • For districts that have already closed without a waiver, providing clarity on the 180-day instructional threshold given the impact on school closures and stockpiled days, and
    • District flexibility on the use or waiver of sick and personal leave requirements for COVID-19 related staff absences, including quarantine
  • Heed the expertise of healthcare professionals and provide the means for schools to use all of the tools at their disposal, which include guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the recent recommendations to Governor Lee by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, including:
    • Encouraging vaccines and making them readily available for Tennesseans ages 12 and up
    • Masking inside schools
    • Providing accessible testing for COVID-19
    • Contact tracing and quarantining
    • Proper ventilation and social distancing

As education organizations representing all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions, we share a deep commitment to student learning and wellbeing and are ready and willing to offer our partnership to you in devising solutions for the benefit of children and schools. We urge you to work hand in hand with districts and school leaders, offering clear guidance so that students can learn safely and in person. Our state’s families and educators are counting on strong, strategic leadership, and we believe that our state can and must do more to protect them and provide consistent instruction during this challenging time.




TN Alliance for Equity in Education