Tennessee prisoners had the fourth-lowest average length of prison stay among 35 states in 200, behind only South Dakota, Illinois, and Kentucky, says a Pew Center on the States report quoted by The Tennessean. Tennessee prisoners could expect an average prison stay of 1.9 years, 6 percent less than they would in 1990 and far lower than the national average for 2009, just under three years. “The fact that we're one of the lowest in the country doesn't surprise me,” said Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson. “The legislature has put into effect a lot of different alternative punishments and presumptions regarding people who should get probation — things that many states have been slow to adopt. Definitely one of the goals of that was to not only reduce but to better control prison populations.”
Officials point out that while offenders spend less time in prison today than 20 years ago for property and drug crimes, there was a 41 percent increase in prison time for violent crimes. “An assumption may be that the state as a whole wants to ensure that people are not being incarcerated just because they have a drug problem but that they are getting the necessary treatment they need in community programs shown to be effective and less expensive than prison,” said Dorinda Carter, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Correction.