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The Way Forward: Tennessee Department of Correction and the Public Safety Act of 2016

The Department of Correction is poised to fulfill the legislative mandate of the Public Safety Act. The bill went into effect July 1, 2016 with supervision changes to begin January 2017. Operationalizing a comprehensive strategy for felon risk management has already begun. The strategy is specifically tailored to enhance public safety in Tennessee and resolve complex issues that have been revealed through the implementation of seamless supervision. The cornerstone of the Department of Correction reentry strategy since 2012 has been seamless supervision. Engaging felons at the onset of their conviction in reentry endeavors is meant to ensure that prompt, assessment driven supervision and services are being delivered. Doing so sets in motion a series of offender movements that must be appropriately timed to fully exploit the continuum of reentry stages. This type of progressive movement of felons from facility bed inventory to managed risk opportunities in the community makes sense and cents. The average hard bed in Tennessee costs anywhere from $49-$73; based upon whether the bed is in a jail or prison. In comparison, felons can be supervised in the community for $3-$5 per day depending upon their standards of supervision and program enrollment. However, public safety, not short term monetary considerations, is the primary goal of managing offender movement from incarceration to the community. Community supervision can be a reliable pathway to enhancing public safety. Research has demonstrated the efficacy of conditional release in facilitating successful offender reentry. In short, offenders who experience carefully conceived transitions from incarceration to the community are more likely to succeed than offenders who are not transitioned. Also, the timing of conditional release to maximize the potential for success is critical because incarcerating offenders too long is as detrimental as not incarcerating them long enough. The optimal utilization of the seamless supervision model requires a strategic coordination of Department of Correction service delivery that is compatible with the successful use of alternative sentences and conditional release. However, evidence suggests that some unexploited opportunities exist in the seamless supervision model. Examples of this include diminishing parole grant trends and persistently high revocation rates. The parole population in Tennessee is shrinking despite the growing size of the incarcerated felon population. The percentage of parole hearings resulting in a parole grant decreased 7.6% between 2012 and 2015. Currently only 28% of incarcerated felons are being granted parole in accordance with their release eligibility date. Similarly, the number of revocations of felons in the community under community supervision remains high. On average, 40% of the technical violator yearly admissions to prison beds are the result of a revocation. The proposed improvements in seamless supervision will not only address the trend of decreasing parole grants and high revocations rates, but also will enhance the Department of Correction’s delivery of services to all stakeholders (judiciary, law enforcement, other state agencies, community, and offenders) by providing a more effective and efficient framework.