Governor Lee signs major prison reform into law

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed two major criminal justice reform bills into law Monday and it’s getting mixed reviews from a Memphis lawmaker.

The first law is called the Alternatives to Incarceration Act. It allows local governments and private organizations to establish community-based alternatives to prison.

The law requires courts give low level offenders the least restrictive conditions of release, and caps the length of probation at 10 years for multiple felony offenses.

The second law is called the Re-entry Success Act. It creates mandatory supervision programs for people released from prison and is meant to help ex-convicts find jobs.

While extending a helping hand to low-level offenders the new laws also increases the punishment for the most serious crimes. Manslaughter, for instance, has been bumped up from a Class C felony to a Class B felony.

Democrats like state Senator Raumesh Akbari of Memphis said more people could actually end up in prison.

“We’re moving in right direction but we’re also taking some steps backward,” she said. “Tennessee crossed the billion dollar threshold about three years ago for the cost of incarceration which is higher than it’s ever been in Tennessee where as our crime rate have not gone down.”

“On the one hand you have a governor who says he wants to tackle criminal justice reform but on the other hand you’re saying we’re going to put more people in jail,” added Rep. Vincent Dixie.

Justice reform advocates say they’ll keep an eye on how the new laws are implemented.

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