Primary Caretaker Legislation (TN) HB0825/SB0919

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HB 0825/SB 0919 requires a court to sentence a person who was convicted of a nonviolent offense and is the primary caretaker of a dependent child to an individually assessed sentence based on community rehabilitation with a focus on parent-child unity and support.

This legislation would most significantly impact Tennessee families, especially young children and their mothers who would benefit from community-based alternatives to incarceration.

  • 1 in 10 children in Tennessee currently have or have had an incarcerated parent. Tennessee ranks above most states for the highest prevalence of children with incarcerated parents, tied with five other states for third place.1
  • Parental incarceration is recognized as an “adverse childhood experience” (ACE). The separation of incarceration causes families immeasurable pain and lasting trauma that negatively impacts the well-being and life outcomes of children of incarcerated parents.2
  • The majority of women in jails and prisons are mothers with children under the age of 18. Most of these are single mothers who are the primary caretakers of their young children.3 When a mother is incarcerated, children are more likely to end up living with grandparents, family friends or in foster care. As a result, children of incarcerated mothers tend to experience greater disruption and instability in their lives.4
  • Black women are incarcerated at a rate three times that of white women and black children are seven times more likely than their white peers to have an incarcerated parent.5 Due to racial disparities in incarceration, black children, families and communities are disproportionately impacted by parental incarceration. Alternatives to incarceration help keep families together and strengthen communities.

Alternatives to incarceration are better for families and communities and more cost effective for Tennessee.

  • Alternatives to incarceration are less expensive and reduce recidivism.6 Instead of jail and prison, parents could receive drug and alcohol treatment, vocational training and job placement, parenting classes and affordable and safe housing assistance.

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    1 Todd, Jen. “Tennessee among states with most incarcerated parents.” The Tennessean. 25 Apr 2016.

    2 Hairston, Creasie Finney. Focus on Children with Incarcerated Parents: An Overview of the Research Literature. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, October 2007.

    3 Swavola, et al. Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform. New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2016.

    4 A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities. Baltimore, MD: The Annie E. Casey Foundation, April 2016.

    5 The Sentencing Project, “The Changing Racial Dynamic of Women’s Incarceration,” 2013 and A Shared Sentence.  (April 2016).

    6 McVay, et al. Treatment or Incarceration: Findings on the Efficacy and Cost Savings of Drug Treatment Versus Imprisonment. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute. January 2004 and Austin, et al. How New York City Reduced Mass Incarceration: A Model for Change? New York: Vera Institute of Justice, January 2013.