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In Tennessee, a person convicted of first-degree murder can be given a death sentence, a life without parole sentence (LWOP) or a life sentence with the possibility of parole/release – which in Tennessee is 51 calendar years. Effectively this means Tennessee has two life without parole sentences. Tennessee is the only state where a life sentence with the possibility of release is 51-years. The national average for life with the possibility of release is 25-years. In Tennessee until the 1994 Clinton Crime Bill was enacted and Tennessee’s version adopted in 1995, individuals with a life sentence with possibility of release would become eligible for parole at 25-years.
According to 2017 data provided by Tennessee Department of Correction, there are 1,294 individuals in Tennessee prisons serving a 51-year life sentence. Over half 699 (54%) of these individuals were youthful offenders (between the ages of 18-25) or juveniles (below the age of 18) on the date of the offense. Specifically, 115 were below the age of 18, and 584 were between the ages of 18 and 25.
Additionally, 59.5% (770) of prisoners with a 51-year life sentence are black, and overall 62.4% (807) are non-white. When we consider the juvenile 51-year population only, that percentage increases to 82.6% of juveniles convicted and given a 51-year life sentence are black and 85.2% are non-white. For youthful offenders 72% are black and 75% are non-white. Only 17% of Tennessee’s population is black. This disproportionate impact should be shocking to the conscious, but in Tennessee it is called “justice” and is business as usual in the perpetuation of carceral enslavement.
For juveniles convicted in Shelby County and given a 51-year life sentence, 100% are black.
For juveniles convicted in Davidson County and given a 51-year life sentence, 82.6% are black.
For youthful offenders (18-25 years old) convicted in Shelby County and given a 51-year life sentence, 97.1% and black.
For youthful offenders convicted in Davidson County and given a 51-year life sentence, 71.9% are black.
For seven years, No Exceptions has worked to educate communities and legislators concerning this inhumane draconian 51-year life sentence, and we have supported legislation that would reduce the 51 years back to 25 years for a possibility of parole for everyone with that sentence. no Exceptions does not stand alone in this fight, we stand with families across this state who are demanding that their loved ones have a real chance to return home. Accountability does not require death, it does not require an exile ending in death. justice does not look like making people disappear forever; justice is about healing, transforming, and true accountability. No Exceptions joins the below organizations in the 25forLife campaign, and we invite you to stand with us in this fight. Sign up to receive our emails and learn how you can make a difference and restore families.
Vengeance is not justice. We need healing. We need transformation. Our children, fathers, sisters, mothers, brothers and loved ones need a way back home
Unheard Voices Outreach
CAMpaign for fair sentencing of youth
Choosing Justice Initiative