Stephanie WhittExecutive Vice President
Overcrowding in local jails is one of the largest expenses for local governments across the state. In 2018 alone, Tennessee jails housed an average of 15,852 pretrial detainees, with 5,285 of whom were detained for a misdemeanor offense. In fact, the number of pretrial detainees comprised nearly 50 percent of Tennessee’s total jail population, and a significant portion of those are detained low level, nonviolent offenses. These overcrowded jails are a huge cost to taxpayers, with an average statewide cost of more than $206,000 per day. Meanwhile, the booking and processing for these low-level non-violent misdemeanors uses valuable law enforcement time and hurts public safety by removing police officers from patrol where they could help prevent more dangerous crimes. While officers do have the option to issue citations instead of arrest for some low-level crimes, state law currently requires officers to ensure that the defendant will appear to court before issuing a citation. This is nearly impossible for officers to prove in the moment, creating an incentive to arrest rather than utilize this effective tool.
Removing vague and unprovable requirements for citations on law enforcement officers will enable them to issue citations for low-level crimes without fear of reprimand. Removing these requirements will give law enforcement the confidence to issue citations, which will ultimately save taxpayers money and allow law enforcement to better protect the public by focusing more time and attention on more dangerous crimes.
What the Bill Does
SB587/HB715 removes the near impossible burden that law enforcement officers must ensure defendants will appear for court in order to issue a citation in lieu of arrest. Additionally, the bill removes the requirement that prior to trial, a defendant must appear before their court date for booking and processing, an unnecessary and costly step.