Necessity in TN for reform of state’s punitive machinery

A young woman pays off taxes, fines or fees that were cited in a letter she received saying her driver license was being revoked. (Photo

A young woman in Montgomery County pays off taxes, fines or fees that were cited in a letter she received saying her driver license was being revoked. A revoked driver license is for most people a form of civil capital punishment. (Photo

Every opportunity I’ve had to speak during the 2016 campaign I’ve talked about criminal justice reform.

It seemed I was a voice crying in the wilderness as I talked about the 14,223 Montgomery County citizens who lost their drivers licenses this year for “failure to pay court costs.”

By Mike Warner

That is over 8 percent of our county residents.  I’ve learned some interesting facts concerning many of these folks.

[Mike Warner is the editor of and candidate for Tennessee State Representative, District 67, Clarksville, Tenn.]

One young man had a $23,000+ debt as a result of a theft of property valued at less than $500.  How did it get so high?  Glad you asked.  It is my understanding that in Montgomery County every incarcerated prisoner is on the hook for $69 per day. Failure to pay that amount is cause for loss of one’s drivers license and has been since 2012.

Montgomery County was the first County to utilize that law. Back to the young man… If he had had a job at this point, he can now no longer get to that job. What other avenue is available is there than continuing as a criminal for this young man and so many others?

There are many pieces of legislation on the books in Tennessee that are not moral but unjust.  There are far to many laws on the books and it is unconscionable when citizens are held to a legal standard not even attorneys can fully comprehend.  The legal system must be understandable by the common person for it to be moral, for them to be held accountable to it.  It is my pledge, if elected, to be on a constant seek and destroy mission to remove such laws or re-write them in such a way to make them just and applicable to everyone equally.

1920-2006US_incarceration_timelineSince the 1960s America has had more than an 800 percent increase per capita incarcerations.  The United States of America is No. 1 in incarcerations in the world.  Tennessee is 10th from the worst state in these United States.  If you click on’s menu “A Just Government” you’ll find a collection of articles regarding this issue.

Today listening to WNKJ Christian radio I heard Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, taking the issue head on.  Below is a video of his conference from a few months ago.  He said in this press conference that Kentucky should lead the way and be the beacon to the nation. Tennessee should at least give Kentucky a good run for its money for that honor.

‘Walking humbly’

Tennessee does not make Tennesseans more safe by placing those who have made mistakes in a downward spiral from which they cannot escape. For years we have heard that the prison system is nothing more than a graduate school for crime.  The problems are systemic.  They have to do with laws that are not just, not merciful.  Our failure to “walk humbly” knowing that as a people we will be judged by God for both what we have done as a state and what we fail to do now to correct these problems.

Many people will oppose what I am suggesting.  People who make their money on the backs of this system, lobbyists who who work for our for profit prisons and the legislators who take campaign donations from those sources.

It is WE THE PEOPLE who must take the initiative to INFORM our legislators.

At least according to the Tennessee Constitution, Article 1 Section 23. “That the citizens have a right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble together for their common good, to instruct their representatives, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, or other proper purposes, by address of remonstrance.”

I hope in 2016 it can be said that the voters re-took their government in Tennessee and elected legislators who not only would be instructed by their constituents but would do everything possible to encourage it.

This essay first appeared at Tennessee Watchman. Mike Warner website for election is at

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