The Nashville community joined the entire county in celebrating the National Day of Empathy on March 5.
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, over 2.3 million people are behind bars in the United States, which is more than any other nation in the world.
The third annual Day of Empathy, one of the largest national days of action for criminal justice reform in history, drew thousands of participants at events in 40 states and millions more were engaged online.
“In order to reform our criminal justice system, we must first humanize and empathize with those who are impacted by it,” said event organizers. “This includes crime survivors and those who have committed crimes.”
The Day of Empathy was started by Dream Corps, which began the program, #cut50, three years ago as a national bipartisan initiative to safely and smartly reduce the U.S. incarcerated population by 50% over the next 10 years.
“The goal is to build empathy in our governors, state legislators, and other policymakers to act on criminal justice and to humanize through personal interaction with impacted persons of the criminal justice system—also to show legislators that this is about the lives of the impacted people, their spouses, their children, their parents, and their friends, crime survivors, and their communities,” according to the group’s press release.
In Nashville, Americans impacted by the criminal justice system met with lawmakers at the state capitol to share their stories and experiences.
Sen. Robinson, along with Rep. Harold Love of Nashville and Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville, joined with a number of national organizations to highlight incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals working to transform themselves, share the obstacles that people with a criminal record are going through and focus on those that are desperately seeking a second chance. They were joined by community members impacted by crime, public safety issues and violence.
“The National Day of Empathy is designed to shine a light on people impacted by the criminal justice system to uplift their voices and win over hearts and minds towards the idea that transformation is possible,” said the lawmakers.
A recent poll commissioned by a bipartisan coalition consisting of Justice Action Network, the ACLU of Tennessee and the conservative group Right on Crime found that 69% of voters believe the state’s criminal justice system “needs significant improvements.”
Additionally, the study found that 90% of Tennesseans favor reducing prison time for non-violent offenders. Over 80% of respondents are in favor of getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences and in favor of money bail reform.
Gov. Bill Lee signs executive order addressing public safety
On the National Day of Empathy, Tennessee Governor Bill lee issued an executive order to establish the Tennessee Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, a promise he had made during his State of the State address.
The sixth executive order issued under his leadership comes after Gov. Lee outlined comprehensive plans to address public safety in Tennessee amid higher rates of violent crime and recidivism. The incarcerated population of Tennessee has grown by 34% since 2000, despite six consecutive years of reduced admissions to the criminal justice system.
“There is a high cost to crime in our state and we need to consider who is paying the price for this: victims pay the price, families pay the price and taxpayers pay the price,” said Lee.
“Our task force is committed to building smart solutions that make our neighborhoods safer.” Gov. Lee appointed Senior Advisor to the Governor and former Judge Brandon Gibson of Crockett County, to chair the task force with appointments including crime victims and their families, members of the General Assembly, state agencies, law enforcement, community and faith-based programs, and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Over the next two legislative sessions, the task force will develop legislative and budgetary recommendations regarding the following public safety issues: Crime prevention and recidivism reduction Punishing violent crime promptly and effectively
Supporting crime victims and their families
Addressing mental health and substance abuse among the incarcerated
Revising sentencing guidelines and parole/ probation standards
Addressing the rising fiscal and social costs of incarceration
Preparing inmates to re-enter society and find pathways outside of crime through education and technical job training
Equipping inmates’ families and communities with tools to help inmates become productive members of society
In addition to the task force, Gov. Lee has proposed measures to crack down on fentanyl traffickers, increase pay for corrections officers and law enforcement, reduce expungement fees and increase educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals.