Juvenile court judge pushes legislation that could increase age of those served by Shelby County Juvenile Court to 24

Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 10:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - There’s a new effort to increase the age of those served by the Shelby County Juvenile Court system to 24.

State Senate Minority Leader Raumesh Akbari and State Representative GA Hardaway, both from Memphis, sponsored legislation that, if passed, would create a pilot program that would allow juvenile court judges in Davidson and Shelby Counties to keep someone in the juvenile court system until they reach their mid-20′s.

Right now, the age limit is 19.

During a lunch and learn Zoom with Shelby County Voter Alliance, Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon emphasized alternatives to locking up young offenders.

Shelby County Juvenile Court
Shelby County Juvenile Court

“The carrot works more effectively than the stick does,” he said. “We have to do a better job, I say we as a community, of delivering services to children and their families, of educating them and letting them know what programs are available.”

Judge Sugarmon mentioned programs like housing assistance for families with truant children, travel vouchers to get to and from school, and job skills training for at-risk teens.

”It’s important to engage the youth because what we do for you that doesn’t include you, will hurt you,” said Sugarmon.

When the new Youth Justice and Education Center on Old Getwell opens this summer, Judge Sugarmon said it will offer betters ways to engage and train incarcerated children than the existing detention center inside the juvenile court on Adams.

“It has a culinary kitchen. It has a full basketball court inside with a stage,” said Sugarmon. “It has a computer lab. What youth are not getting in the way of training currently, and they still get a full curriculum here, but we want to expand that.”

New Shelby County Youth Justice and Education Center
New Shelby County Youth Justice and Education Center(Action News 5)

Right now, Shelby County Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over a child until he or she turns 19.

Judge Sugarmon supports the movement to increase that age.

“Their minds are not fully formed. Science backs this up,” he said. “So, if we had extended jurisdiction over these youths, up until say their mid-20′s... 24 or 25... to continue them in the juvenile process, we have a greater opportunity of restoring these youth, rehabilitate them into productive citizens, turning them into productive citizens that everybody should try to develop their children into.”

Judge Sugarmon defeated longtime Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael last August running on a justice reform platform.

Judge Michael, back in 2016, tried unsuccessfully to convince the state legislature to increase the juvenile court’s jurisdiction to age 25.

The Tennessee General Assembly’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee and Senate Judiciary Committee will discuss the bill further on March 28.

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