New Report Analyzes the Criminalization of Poverty in Tennessee

Media Contact: Claire Belanger, 585-730-1218,

WHAT: On April 27th at 10AM, experts from the Vera Institute of Justice and Free Hearts will release a new report on The Criminalization of Poverty in Tennessee that examines the criminalization of poverty across the urban to rural spectrum. The report highlights the consequences of the money bail system, costly probation, and arresting and charging people for activities they engage in to survive, including driving without a license, sleeping outside, and being unable to pay outstanding fines and fees. In 2018, Tennessee had the tenth highest incarceration rate in the most incarcerated nation in the world, spending hundreds of millions of dollars to jail and imprison people.

Advocates will detail how incarceration and criminalization affect communities across urban and rural Tennessee and will speak to the transformative potential of investment in community-based solutions designed to meet people’s needs.

The report integrates data analysis, ethnography, and survey data. The survey was administered by Free Hearts organizers who canvassed thousands of people across the state about their lived experiences of poverty and criminalization. The report also includes case studies from Hamblen, ​​Weakley, Sullivan, and Wilson counties to elevate how criminalization intersects with disinvestment in housing, transportation, social services, and public health, disproportionately impacting Black people, women, and children. Local advocates will detail the policy changes that criminalized people want and need.

A Q&A will follow.

April 27th, 2022 from 10:00AM - 11:00AM

WHERE: Register Here

WHO: Jasmine Heiss, Director, In Our Backyards Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice
Bea Halbach-Singh, Research Associate, Vera Institute of Justice
Jack Norton, Senior Research Associate, Vera Institute of Justice
Jawharrah Bahar, Director of Outreach, Free Hearts
Aniya Wiley, Director, Free Hearts
Gicola Lane, Statewide Organizer, Free Hearts

About Free Hearts
Free Hearts is a non-profit organization founded in 2016 by formerly incarcerated women that provides support, education, and advocacy in organizing families impacted by incarceration, with the ultimate goals of reuniting families and keeping families together. For more information, visit

About the Vera Institute of Justice
The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and activists working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit