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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says a task force that will recommend sentencing changes has not reached out to that group for input.

In a letter to the Governor's Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism, Nashville defense attorney David Raybin says the lawyers' association believes the state task force is considering recommendations that will result in longer sentences and greater costs to taxpayers.

"The cost of the penitentiary is staggering. It now costs almost $900,000,000 with millions more in cost for local jails. The total taxpayers' expense could shortly approach a billion dollars a year," the letter states.

The letter suggests that correctional officer organizations, prisoner advocacy organizations and even former prisoners could aid the task force in formulating its recommendations.

The letter says the lawyers' association understands the task force is recommending a criminal justice research council to provide data on things like sentencing, incarceration times and crime rates. Raybin's letter says that doesn't go far enough.

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A cell sits empty after the closing ceremony of Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tenn. Thursday, June 11, 2009. The Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex is the state's oldest prison at 113 years. The Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex is the state's oldest prison at 113 years. It is closing Thursday because it's become too expensive to upgrade and maintain. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

A sentencing commission, like the one Tennessee had between 1986 and 1995, would make sentencing fairer and keep costs down, the letter says.

Raybin was asked to write the letter because he served on the previous sentencing commission, which offered comment on all criminal legislative proposals.

"The Sentencing Commission's comments and recommendations occasionally caused political embarrassment but they brought to light duplication of legislation, whether the proposal contradicted earlier policy determinations and, most importantly, the fiscal impact considering the number of additional beds that might be needed if a proposal were passed into law."

Laura Herzog, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bill Haslam, says the task force is still doing its work.

"It is meeting next week to continue talking about recommendations," she wrote in an email. "It will make recommendations to the governor this fall."

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