Right To Life: A New Bill in Tennessee
Today on The Feed, Rev. Jeannie Alexander (Co-Founder and Director of No Exceptions Prison Collective) discusses a new legislative bill in Tennessee that will allow someone given a life sentence with the possibility of parole to go up for parole after 25 years. This is the national average, but right now someone in Tennessee given a life sentence with the possibility of parole will have to serve 51 years before they can petition for parole.
By Rev. Jeannie Alexander
There are two photographs here; one is a face of love, pain and determination, and the other is hope. Yesterday No Exceptions held a Sentencing Reform Legislative Training to educate concerned citizens and loved ones about bills in this legislative session that if passed will result in much needed sentencing reform that will give over a thousand human souls hope for a second chance.
The woman in the photograph traveled overnight in terrible weather because her loved one has a 51-year life sentence, and she is desperate for hope for just a chance at parole. Tennessee of course has capital punishment, and it also has two other possible sentences for first degree murder - life without parole (LWOP) and life with possibility of parole. Life with possibility of parole is historically the most common sentence in TN and nationally for a conviction of first degree murder, because ultimately we are a people who believe in redemption. Unfortunately, TN holds the ill distinction of being the only state where life with possibility of parole means 51 calendar years, and thus offers no meaningful chance at parole. Fifty-one years is a death sentence. It is not only terrible public policy, and fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable to have such a sentence structure, it is also the very height of hypocrisy to live in a state where lawmakers posture to declare the bible the official book of Tennessee while maintaining a sentence structure that offers no hope, no redemption, no restoration. And so this woman risked her life for the possibility of hope. And we have hope.
The other photograph is the jacket carrying HB2367/SB2413, a bill which will allow individuals given a life sentence with possibility of parole to go up for parole after serving 25 years, which is both the national average and Tennessee's historical average prior to 1995. When I picked up the bill after it had returned from the legal department at the Legislature I saw that someone had placed a sticky note on the jacket cover that read, "Right to Life." I thanked God and said a prayer, because that is exactly what we are hoping that lawmakers will understand that thousands are seeking for their loved ones.
Murder is a terrible, painful, bitter thing, but we cannot continue to respond to pain and brokenness, with even more pain and brokenness and ever expect families and communities to heal. Sound public policy and good jurisprudence in western democracies anticipate an end to punishment, which is why revenge should never dictate law. This is why we fight, and hope, and stand with those in exile trying to find a way home.