State Sen. Brenda Gilmore celebrates passage of Primary Care Relief Act

Pictured from (l): Jamie Ferrell; Aniya Wiley; Sen. Brenda Gilmore; Jawharrah Bahar; Stephanie Frame; Andrea James, executive director for national council for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and girls; Dawn Harrington, executive director Free Hearts; Alexandra Chambers; and Ashlee Sellars.

The Tennessee General Assembly’s passage of SB 0985, the Primary Care Relief Criminal Justice Reform Act, moves Tennessee one giant step toward a better and more sensible criminal justice system and is a significant victory for women and working families.

The Primary Care Relief Act permits courts to sentence non-violent offenders, who are primary caretakers to at least one dependent child, to individually assessed sentences, which are envisioned to be post-conviction releases (similar to probation) so people can return home. Under this new legislation, instead of going to prison or jail, a person would be permitted to remain at home to care for dependent children under judicially imposed conditions. This reform bill will bring great change by preventing families from being separated. Particularly, women will disproportionately benefit from this new legislation, because women, including single mothers, remain the primary care providers for children in our communities.

“I was very proud to sponsor and champion the Primary Care Relief Criminal Justice Reform Act this legislative session.” Said Sen. Brenda Gilmore. “But I did not accomplish this great feat alone. I thank both Tennessee Republicans and Democrats for working across party lines to support this piece of commonsense, pro-family criminal justice reform. Additionally, I am very thankful to the countless supporters of this legislation from community activists and the general public. Particularly, I especially thank Rep. Karen Camper, the House Sponsor and Republican Leader William Lambert for their help in getting the bill across the finish line. Community activist Dawn Harrington and all the hard workers at Free Heart worked passionately on this legislation for three years. These organizations and people stood with me every step of the way on the frontlines of this fight and pulled victory within our grasps.

“While I am proud of this great victory for our working families and mothers, we cannot end here in our fight for widespread criminal justice reform. We still suffer horrendous deprivations as a community because of the ravages of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration was brought on by the privatization and profiteering of prisons that was misguided and ill informed. We now must transform and cultivate a new criminal justice system that is designed to reform and empower non-violent offenders, so they will not recommit offenses and can be productive. Long and senseless sentences are not the answer rather we need to take a community-based approach.

“This bill was very close to my heart, because I got a chance to work with many formerly incarcerated mothers who should never have been imprisoned. They taught me so much about the failures of our criminal justice system. I promised them and others that I would continue to use my platform and space to rewrite the mistakes of the past. I thank them for their continued support and prayers. I ask all of us to stand for positive change in our hopeful, but imperfect, community.”