Jun 10, 2022 - News

Documentary examines TN's juvenile sentencing

Illustrated collage of a hand in handcuffs, a judge's gavel, and pieces of paper surrounded by various shape
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A documentary released this week by Al Jazeera English spotlights Tennessee's unusually long sentences for juveniles convicted of murder.

  • Juveniles sentenced to life with the possibility of parole must serve 51 years in prison before they are eligible for release.

Why it matters: The U.S. Supreme Court requires states to provide juvenile offenders a "meaningful opportunity" to be released if they demonstrate rehabilitation. Advocates argue Tennessee's harsh life sentences violate that ruling and essentially amount to life without parole for many juvenile offenders.

Driving the news: The state Supreme Court is considering that argument now.

  • State Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), who appears in the documentary, has sponsored legislation trying to change life sentences handed down to juveniles so they get an earlier chance at parole. That legislation has yet to gain traction.

Between the lines: Former Gov. Bill Haslam highlighted the issue after he granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown-Long, who killed a man at 16.

  • "We have too many juveniles serving too long," Haslam said earlier this year at an event with Brown-Long.
  • Haslam said "a lot more cases" deserved another look.
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