Nashville’s juvenile court plans new program to cut down on youth violence

(Graphic: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – January has been a violent month in Nashville for juveniles. Four teenagers were charged with homicide compared to none charged during the same period last year.

The latest are Terrence Rainey and Byron Berkley, both 16, who are accused in the murder of Javonte Robinson, 18, and critically injuring Roy Hunter, 20, during a robbery at a Madison apartment complex last Saturday.

According to the Davidson County Juvenile Court administrator, in January 2016, eight juveniles were charged with aggravated assault and four teens were charged with aggravated robbery. No juveniles were charged with especially aggravated robbery or homicide.

In January 2017,  a total of 19 juveniles were charged with aggravated assault, 13 with aggravated robbery, 4 with especially aggravated robbery, and six others were charged with homicide.

Another trend the court is seeing is teens being charged with serious violent crimes who do not have previous arrests.

“That is very concerning because we are structuring our programs to be able to find solutions and interventions for kids who come to our attention,” court administrator Kathryn Sinback said. “But there are also kids who haven’t come to our attention who are getting in very serious trouble.”

She continued, “We really want to ask for the community’s help in identifying those kids in need.”

In the juvenile court system, there is a team approach to identifying the root causes a child commits a crime and how supporting the family can help change the behavior.

In Davidson County, there is an assessment team that studies the teen and family situation. There is also a Support Intervention Assessment that provides programs like the gang court to help keep teens from re-offending.

The court is also planning to launch a restorative justice pilot program in 2017.

Restorative justice programs focus on constructive responses to wrongdoing that bring those who have harmed their victims and affected community members into processes that repair harms and rebuild relationships, according to the mayor’s office.

“The idea of restorative justice is having the child go through an extensive process to figure out why this happened and also have a process with the victim if they want to participate,” Sinback said. “We are really getting to the root of the problem and then our team is helping the family get over those barriers to success.”

The pilot program is being modeled off of one in Oakland, California, where, according to Metro, there is a reduction in crime.

“A big part of the processes is allowing the victim, if they want, to meet the offender after they have also gone through the process,” Sinback said. “It allows the victim to ask a lot of questions and give the offender a chance to be accountable.”

Davidson County still needs to partner with an agency to help with restorative conferences for the victim and offenders.

“We really believe this is the answer to youth violence,” Sinback said. “It has to be done well and has to be a very extensive process.”

Sinback also said parents should reach out to the juvenile court if they recognize signs a child maybe involved in criminal activity or beginning to act out.

“They can contact us. It is confidential and we will help them identify resources,” Sinback said. “It does not mean their child will have a criminal record. In fact, our goal is to keep teens from having criminal records.”

The move toward restorative justice is part of the recommendations from the Mayor’s Youth Violence Summits held in 2016.

The mayor’s office will be working on ways to promote broader community engagement on topics related to restorative justice, criminal justice reforms, and how the Nashville community can work together ensure everyone feels safe, respected, and hopeful for the future, according to information on Mayor Barry’s website.