NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The ages of two children recently arrested and charged have people around the country surprised and asking questions.
In less than two months, two 12-year-olds have been charged with felonies in two separate, violent incidents.
Monday night, a 12-year-old was arrested and charged with a number of felonies after Metro police said he tried to carjack a woman outside of a Midtown dance studio. Another juvenile is still on the run.
On New Year’s Eve, a 12-year-old was charged with criminal homicide after she allegedly accidentally shot and killed her 16-year-old friend with a stolen gun.
These children are hardly alone in their arrests.
Thirty-four children, aged 12 or under, were arrested and charged with at least one felony from January 1, 2017 to February 21, 2018.
In 2016, 24 children aged 12 or under had been charged with at least one felony.
A felony in Tennessee can range from theft over $1,000 to murder. After they’re charged, the children often end up in custody in the juvenile detention center.
“It’s very difficult for us to house children age 12 and under,” Judge Sheila Calloway told News 2. “If you’re combining them with older youth who have done some serious offenses, it can be counterproductive for having a child come to a detention facility.”
Judge Calloway said while they’re under her supervision, she aims to both keep the children accountable for their actions while also working to rehabilitate them.
“They’re woken up early, they go to breakfast, they go to school, they have a lunch break and recreation break,” Judge Calloway said. “They also have time in the evening to do program activities.”
Calloway said many of the children have experienced major trauma in their lives and that locking them up can make the problem worse.
“Locking them up is not the answer. We have to do a better job as a society to figure out what the source is of the problem and fixing it,” she said. “If addressing that issue means that they’re in some type of program that’s restorative and rehabilitative then that’s what they need.”
The judge is quick to defend the notion that the court system is too lenient.
“Just because we say locking children up is not the answer doesn’t mean we’re being soft on crime,” she said. “People have to recognize that locking them up first and foremost does not solve the problem. We have to hold our children accountable, they have to learn not to do the things they’ve done we have to address the issues that led them to cause the problem.”
However, the goal is to keep children out of the system all together. Judge Calloway said the change is not going to happen overnight, but she believes restorative justice is a start.
News 2 also spoke with the Mayor’s Youth Policy Director, Ronnie Steine. He said Metro is trying to fund a 24-hour youth center.
They hope to have a plan for it in the next month and ask for the money to fund it in next year’s budget.