Letter to Tennessee Gov. Haslam
We write today to urge you to grant Mr. Calvin Bryant executive clemency. As a young man, Bryant was convicted of selling drugs within a drug-free school zone.[i] Although this was the first time he had been convicted of a felony offense, Bryant was sentenced to 17 years in a Tennessee state prison.[ii] He has now spent roughly a decade behind bars.[iii] We believe Bryant’s punishment to be disproportional to the crime committed, an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars and ultimately in conflict with our founding principles of limited government and equality. For these reasons, we implore you to use your power of clemency to remedy this situation and grant Mr. Calvin Bryant his freedom.
Tennessee’s drug-free school zone laws were crafted with the intent to dissuade individuals from selling drugs to minors. Yet, in reality, these laws are rarely used to punish adults who are selling drugs to children on the playground; rather, they are misused to rationalize egregious sentencing enhancements that can result in individuals convicted of drug offenses serving more time than convicted murderers.[iv] This blatantly disproportional punishment is evident in Bryant’s case. Bryant was pressured to sell drugs to a family friend who, unbeknownst to Bryant, was a police informant.[v] While he was sentenced to 17 years for his first offense, the informant—who previously had been convicted of 39 offenses—was instead paid over $1,000 and received a deal on his last arrest.[vi]
Mr. Bryant has served more time than necessary to hold him accountable for a mistake he made roughly a decade ago. Even the attorney who prosecuted his case, Robert McGuire, believes continued imprisonment would bring no additional value to public safety or justice.[vii] Moreover, if Bryant’s projected release date is May 16, 2023, a decision to grant him executive clemency before the end of this year would result in over $126,000 in reduced incarceration costs.[viii] In contrast, the decision to ignore this request would be a grossly inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Finally, our nation’s founders inscribed the principles of limited government and equality into the fabric of our democracy. The misuse of drug-free-school-zone penalties in cases such as Bryant’s violates these very principles, as his sentencing was not limited to that which is necessary to restore safety or impart justice to a community. Instead, the state of Tennessee chose to exact excessive punishment upon a first-time offender. Here, it is worth noting that drug-free-school-zone laws do not apply to Tennessee residents equally. Indeed, a 2018 article in Reason found that drug-free zones are predominantly located in low-income, urban areas in Tennessee where the population is more condensed. Indeed, they cover approximately 27 percent of the area within Nashville’s city limits.[ix] Thus, Tennesseans who live in rural or wealthier areas, where the population is less dense and schools are more spread out, are far more likely to receive reasonable sentences for similar crimes. This insidious disparity promotes neither limited government nor equality.
Today, we respectfully ask that you remedy this injustice and grant Mr. Calvin Bryant executive clemency. Doing so would give a young man almost five years of freedom, reduce state costs and uphold the founding principles of our government. Thank you for considering our request and please reach out to us if you have any additional questions.
Policy Associate, Criminal Justice
R Street Institute
Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties Policy
R Street Institute
[i] See Calvin’s story featured here, “Calvin Bryant: 17 Years for a First Offense,” Families Against Mandatory Minimums, accessed Oct. 10, 2018. https://famm.org/stories/calvin-bryant-17-years-first-offense; and J.R. Lind, “Nashville Case Highlights Drug-Free School Zone Reform Efforts,” Patch, Nov. 28, 2017. https://patch.com/tennessee/nashville/nashville-case-highlights-drug-free-school-zone-reform-efforts.
[iv] C.J. Ciaramella and Lauren Krisai, “The Myth of the Playground Pusher,” Reason Magazine, January 2018. https://reason.com/archives/2017/12/18/the-myth-of-the-playground-pus.
[v] “Calvin Bryant: 17 Years for a First Offense.” https://famm.org/stories/calvin-bryant-17-years-first-offense; and Lind. https://patch.com/tennessee/nashville/nashville-case-highlights-drug-free-school-zone-reform-efforts.
[vii] “Calvin Bryant: 17 Years for a First Offense.” https://famm.org/stories/calvin-bryant-17-years-first-offense.
[viii] Ibid. Cost calculated using Tennessee Department of Corrections average cost per inmate, per day. See ”Frequently Asked Questions,” Tennessee Department of Corrections, accessed Oct. 10, 2018. https://www.tn.gov/correction/statistics-and-information/frequently-asked-questions.html.
[ix] Ciaramella and Krisai. https://reason.com/archives/2017/12/18/the-myth-of-the-playground-pus.