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Tennessee Prison Population Climbs Eight Percent As Crime Drops

After years of steady declines, Tennessee’s prison population climbed by nearly eight percent last year, a bump in the rate of incarceration that surpassed all but three other states during a period that also saw steep drops in the most serious crimes, Tennessee Lookout reports. Tennessee added 1,615 more men and 125 more women to its roster of prisoners in 2022. Only Mississippi, Colorado and Montana experienced greater gains. By the end of 2022, there were 23,735 state inmates in Tennessee; the data do not include the population in county jails, which hold individuals for misdemeanor offenses and those awaiting trial. Criminal justice reform advocates said they were disheartened but unsurprised. 

“Everything that we said was going to come true has come true,” said Dawn Harrington of Free Hearts, a nonprofit that advocates for current and former prisoners. Among the drivers, Harrington believes, is Tennessee’s truth-in-sentencing law, which took effect midway through 2022. The law requires heightened minimum sentences for a host of offenses.  The COVID epidemic ushered in social and economic challenges — among them unemployment, limited access to mental health resources and widening disparities in education and health care. All are “predetermining factors” that may also explain why more men and women wound up behind bars, she said. Tennessee incarcerated more people despite a drop in crime. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that murder, rape, and kidnapping decreased by double digits last year.


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