Cyntoia Brown-Long pushing Tenn. lawmakers to reduce parole eligibility wait time for juvenile offenders

Updated: Feb. 26, 2020 at 3:14 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers are considering reducing the amount of time certain juvenile offenders must serve before they can become eligible for parole.

Right now, juvenile offenders serving a life sentence with parole in Tennessee must serve 51 years before they find out if they're eligible.

Lawmakers are considering a proposal to reduce the wait time to 30 years. Cyntoia Brown-Long is pushing for the change.

At just 16 years old, Brown-Long was convicted of killing a man after being forced into prostitution.

“I was told that I would spend the rest of my life in prison,” Brown-Long said. She was released after 15 years when Governor Bill Haslam commuted her sentence.

Now, she wants to help others.

"There are still many people who are in that same situation right now and it can happen. I am living proof that it can happen," Brown-Long told lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee. "People can do well if given the opportunity and the tools to succeed."

She's pushing for passage of a bill, SB 69, by State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.

Akbari's bill reduces the amount of time a juvenile who is serving a life sentence with parole would have to wait to find out if they’re eligible.

It would be reduced from 51 years to 30 years.

"This will allow the juvenile to be able to participate in educational programs so that they can better themselves, become a better person, a person who has learned from the mistakes they made and can re-enter society," said Akbari. “When we look at juveniles, we have to consider other factors like brain development and trauma and other things that they’ve had to experience.”

Akbari said parole eligibility does not guarantee release.

“The parole board will make that ultimate decision,” said Akbari.

The Tennessee District Attorney General's Conference opposes the bill in its current form.

"Juveniles are still capable of heinous, vile acts," said Steve Crump, District Attorney General of the 10th Judicial District. "They are increasingly violent and as a result we are seeing more of these cases.”

While they have no problem reducing the parole wait time, Crump said they're against a provision that would do away with life without parole sentences for juveniles.

"There are sentences of life without parole that are necessary regardless of your age," Crump said.

Some lawmakers floated the idea of reducing the juvenile parole wait time to 20 or 25 years, as other states have done.

Akbari said that was the original goal, but it didn't seem to have enough support, which is why she settled on 30 years.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will consider possible amendments to the bill next week.

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