Tennessee lawmakers consider introducing new program to curb juvenile crime in Memphis

Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 10:35 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 25, 2023 at 11:40 AM CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee lawmakers are considering an experimental program in Memphis to curb juvenile crime. The Shelby County delegation has been hard at work this legislative session looking for better ways to rehabilitate children who get into trouble while keeping the community safe.

Memphians will hear a lot about blended sentencing in the coming weeks. Blended sentencing, used in at least 16 states now, allows certain juvenile offenders to serve both juvenile and adult sentences.

Democratic state lawmakers from Memphis want to create a pilot program that could transform the juvenile justice system. Senate Bill 0877, sponsored by Senate minority leader Raumesh Akbari, would allow young offenders to stay in the Shelby County Juvenile Court system until age 24.

”The reason why this is important,” Sen. Akbari told Action News 5, “is because everything that we’ve learned over the last decade around brain development, around decision making for juveniles, shows that you still have time for meaningful intervention up to, really, the age of 25.”

Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon and Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy support this type of reform. So does State Representative G.A. Hardaway, who sponsored the bill on the House side.

”The rehab that we do when we send children into adult facilities,” said Rep. Hardaway, “it’s not working, and the statistics bear that out. 60% of juvenile offenders are re-arrested within one year of their release.”

Republicans from Memphis are taking a different approach to blended sentencing. Senator Brent Taylor sponsored Senate Bill 0624. Violent young offenders would stay in juvenile custody until age 18, then serve their remaining sentence in adult prison until age 25. They could avoid adult jail time if they complete specific rehabilitation and school programs.

”I think most Memphians are not interested in figuring out how to treat adults as juveniles,” said Sen. Taylor, “they’re more interested in trying to figure out how to treat juveniles as adults.”

State Rep. Mark White of Memphis is the republican co-sponsor on the house side. With a 15-year-old charged with killing a local pastor, and Memphis Police confirming a large chunk of car thefts and break-ins are being committed by kids, the time for change, said White, is now.

”I think anyone in our city would agree right now, it’s gotten way too out of hand,” said Rep. White, “with way too much juvenile crime. So, we’re trying to put together a package to deal with that. We need to come together and have something we can all get behind.”

All four politicians told Action News 5 they’re willing to reach across the aisle to find compromise.

”Crime across the country, really, is at record level,” said Sen. Akbari, “And in Memphis, in particular, this is something that people are asking for, and we have to get it right.”

Sen. Taylor’s legislation is also sponsored by Lt. Governor Randy McNally and the Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. Both bills are up for discussion in Nashville next week.

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