Tennessee bill fights to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars

Some view bill as a step toward sentence reform.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Some lawmakers are hoping to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars longer. They are pushing for a bill that continues to move up the ranks in the state legislature.

The Knox County District Attorney and victims’ rights advocate Joan Berry hoped lawmakers would support a truth-in-sentencing measure, however, they say this bill brings us closer to giving victims a peace of mind.

WATE 6 On Your Side has covered stories in the past where victims and sometimes even prosecutors were caught off guard by an inmate’s parole hearing. They say the parole hearing came much earlier than expected.

“To keep having to go back and fighting for justice for your loved one that’s not fair that’s not justice,” said Berry. Berry is the co-founder of Hope for Victims. The non-profit fights for the rights of families and victims of violent crimes.

Currently inmates can earn credits for time off their sentences or may be eligible for parole after serving only 30 percent of their sentence. Representative William Lamberth is a sponsor of this bill proposing sentencing changes.

“For those who are not willing to get help, that commit violent offenses over and over again, well we are going to lock them up for a lot longer, because we are going to make sure this is one of the safest states in the Union,” said Rep. Lamberth.

The bill will increase the amount of time offenders must serve behind bars if convicted of multiple home burglaries or repeat drug trafficking. Also if a person is convicted of domestic violence, the third conviction will be a felony.

Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen says it’s a step in the right direction but more reform is needed. “Everyone in the courtroom should know that three years means three years. We are still a long way from that,” said Gen. Allen.

Berry is pleased with the bill but hopes there is a true truth-in-sentencing bill in the future. “Just going to be really great when you go into the courtroom and the person is sentenced and you know that is exactly what they are going to get,” said Berry.

Rep. Lamberth says while this isn’t truth-in sentencing, it is a much needed sentence reform. He hopes to see more sentencing changes over the next few years. Also, he says the bill puts money toward drug and mental health treatment programs.

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