Tennessee families pushing for ‘truth in sentencing’ act

East Tennessee families are urging lawmakers to make violent offenders stay in jail longer.

Johnia Berry was murdered more than 10 years ago.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) –  East Tennessee families are urging lawmakers to make violent offenders stay in jail longer. Parents whose children have been murdered are asking for “truth in sentencing,” meaning criminals do not receive parole. Several families are going to Nashville to speak with the governor’s office on Wednesday.

“Our victims don’t get a chance to come back,” said Joan Berry.

Her daughter, Johnia, was murdered more than 10 years ago. Berry said there needs to be stronger justice.

“Let offenders know that if they pull a crime, they will be pulling their sentence.”

Previous story: Tennessee bill fights to keep repeat violent offenders behind bars

Berry wants lawmakers to look at Virginia as an example. Virginia does have a truth in sentencing law wherein offenders must serve 85 percent of their sentence. However, in Tennessee, offenders are eligible for parole after serving 33 percent.

“That just means the family members have to go through the terrible ordeal again,” said Berry. “They have to convince them to please keep them incarcerated.”

“There is no deterrent. At some point, somebody has got to do something,” said Gary Christian.

Channon Christian
Channon Christian

Christian also lost his daughter, Channon. She was a victim of a heinous kidnapping, rape and murder 10 years ago.

More coverage: Christian-Newsom Murders

“Why are you going to let them out early? Who is that going to help?” said Christian.

Christian and Berry said a truth in sentencin’ law will help keep Tennessee’s streets safer.

“You know you are doing a crime that is going to put you up 75 years, you might think twice,” said Christian.

“It sends a good message out there that you are going to be paying for this crime,” said Berry.

A pushback these families might get from lawmakers is how the state will fund for criminals to stay in jail longer. Berry believes legislatures should use money from the state’s budget surplus to make Tennessee safer. She also said some lawmakers are in support of this act. She plans to meet with Rep. William Lamberth on Wednesday.

Some families in support of this act do not believe it should be applied to all criminals. They just want violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences.

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