Tennessee juvenile justice task force releases findings, recommendations

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A focus on high risk kids and reaching minor offenders earlier are among solutions discussed Wednesday for what’s been called a “broken” state system of juvenile justice.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, the two co-chairs of the Joint Ad-Hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice, hosted an audio preview of findings and possible solutions.

“We need to be smarter with the data to see whether those youth in the system are being properly handled,” said Senator Norris, who awaits Washington confirmation to become a federal judge. “And we are not talking about being soft on crime we are talking about being effective.”

Juvenile Justice Center (Photo: WKRN)

Although the task force met almost month since mid-year, the Pew Charitable Trust did much of the data preparation for the group that included not only lawmakers, but prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, children’s advocates and Tennessee Department of Children’s Services workers.

Speaker Harwell said they were among the 400 voices from across the state heard from in 10 round-table discussions.

What works and what doesn’t, backed up by data-driven findings, was key to the task force said both co-chairs.

The two outlined five findings that included:

  • Youth adjudicated on misdemeanor offenses, unruly offenses, and technical violations make up nearly half of costly out-of-home placements.
  • Youth prosecuted in the juvenile system are staying longer and enduring more out-of-home placements during their time in custody.
  • Community-based interventions that effectively hold youth accountable, reduce recidivism, and keep families intact are not available across the state—especially in rural jurisdictions.
  • Lack of statewide guidance leads to inconsistent outcomes
  • Data collection and information sharing insufficient and inconsistent across the state.

Three general solutions discussed include:

  • Prevent deeper juvenile justice system involvement of lower level youth with early response
  • Protect public safety and contain costs by focusing system resources on the highest-risk youth
  • Sustain effective practices through continued oversight and reinvestment in a stronger continuum of evidence-based services statewide

Click here for a PowerPoint on Wednesday’s presentation.

A final report is expected next week in the hopes of preparing legislation for the upcoming session that begins in January.