Tennessee Bill Will Allow ‘Blended Sentencing’ Of Violent Juvenile Offenders

Tennessee legislators have advanced a bill to Governor Bill Lee’s (R) desk that introduces a new sentencing approach known as “blended sentencing,” which allows for tougher penalties for serious juvenile offenders once they age out of the juvenile justice system.

Under current law, the juvenile justice system loses jurisdiction over offenders once they reach the age of 19. This has led to concerns that some serious offenders are effectively escaping accountability once they reach this age. Tennessee GOP House Speaker Cameron Sexton, the bill’s proponent, explained to Fox News Digital that current laws result in records being wiped clean for offenders aged 19, essentially granting them a “free pass.”

The proposed blended sentencing bill aims to address this issue by extending the jurisdiction of the juvenile justice system for serious offenders. Offenders aged 17 or 18 who commit violent crimes and are not prosecuted as adults could face an additional three to five years of punishment in the adult prison system under certain conditions. These conditions include being found guilty of offenses equivalent to adult class A, B, or C felonies. However, the blended sentence cannot extend beyond the offender’s 25th birthday.

Sexton emphasized that the bill was crafted in consultation with juvenile judges to ensure a reasonable and accountable approach. He highlighted the importance of holding juvenile offenders accountable while providing opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

The bill passed both the House and Senate at the end of April, following concerns about a rise in juvenile carjackings during the pandemic. However, data indicate that juvenile arrests have actually decreased by 53% over the past decade, suggesting a broader context for the legislative action.

As the bill awaits Governor Lee’s signature, it represents a significant step in addressing concerns about accountability for serious juvenile offenders in Tennessee. If signed into law, blended sentencing could provide a middle ground between juvenile rehabilitation and adult punishment for certain offenses, reflecting evolving approaches to juvenile justice in the state.