Criminal Justice Reform
Governor Lee’s Criminal Justice Task Force found that over the last decade, Tennessee maintained its high recidivism rate and grew its prison population by 12%.1 Corrections now cost the state over $1 billion annually.2 A documented and significant contributor to this increase includes mental illness and substance misuse.3 Over a quarter of all prison admissions were for non-violent drug offenses.4 The SMART Policy Network will compile and compare state policies and interventions with health outcomes and crime rate. Specifically, we will identify best practices for addressing behavioral health, mental health, and substance misuse and their relation to recidivism and incarceration rates.
1 Criminal Justice Investment Task Force. https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/governorsoffice-documents/governorlee-documents/CJInvestmentTaskForceReport.pdf. Published December 19, 2019. Accessed October 21, 2020. 5-8.
3 Ibid, 17-20.
4 Ibid, 15.
People with mental health and substance use disorders who would benefit from treatment are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. It has been reported that 63% of individuals in jail and 58% of individuals in prison meet the criteria for having a substance use disorder, and 36% of the population serving a state prison sentence were being treated for a mental health disorder, which is 17% higher than the general population in Tennessee. Justice-involved individuals with mental health and substance use disorders have a higher risk of recidivism, especially when they lack access to medications and behavioral health treatments both during and after incarceration. However, despite this heightened prevalence and treatment need, criminal justice entities rarely have the resources needed to ensure at-risk individuals receive continuous evidence-based care. Given Tennessee’s incarceration rate has risen to 10% above the national average, and almost half of all incarcerated individuals are rearrested within three years of release, it is critical for individuals to have access to continuous care both during incarceration and at reentry into the community.
Corrections in Tennessee cost over $1 billion annually due to a rising incarceration rate. The state’s increasing incarceration rate is related to the growth in substance misuse which on its own costs Tennessee $2 billion each year and leads to over $1 billion in lost income from a shrinking work force. Prioritizing evidence-based treatment that targets the underlying medical and behavioral issues driving addictive habits for justice-involved individuals could simultaneously address rising recidivism, reincarceration, and growing substance misuse.
The Criminal Justice and Substance Use Disorder Dashboard is developed and maintained by the SMART Policy Network Criminal Justice Reform Team. Data sources are linked at the bottom of each dashboard.
Criminal Justice Reform SMART Team
4th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge
State of Tennessee
Jail Management Consultant
County Technical Assistance Service
UT Institute for Public Service
Department of Psychology
East Tennessee State University
Department of Social, Cultural, and Justice Studies
SMART Policy Network Graduate Research Assistant
UT Knoxville Juris Doctor Student
Director of Substance Misuse Outreach and Initiatives, UT System
Clinical Assistant Professor, UT Knoxville College of Nursing
Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy