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
Memphis for All
Stand for Children Tennessee
Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Whole Child Strategies