VOL. 132 | NO. 149 | Friday, July 28, 2017
Herenton's New Path
By Bill Dries
Dan Michael is not the first Juvenile Court judge former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton has talked to about educating juvenile offenders in custody.
Four years ago, then-Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person Jr. was with Herenton as Thurgood Marshall Academy opened at Northside High School as a school for juveniles beyond the Hope Academy they attended while in detention.
The academy was short-lived but marked the start of several attempts Herenton has made at the concept, which surfaced again this week as the New Path Restorative Campus.
Herenton wants to buy the old city auto inspection station Downtown at fair market value and build a new detention and education center for juvenile offenders on the site.
Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton proposes buying the city’s former auto inspection building Downtown and converting it into a development center for juvenile offenders. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Michael is receptive but is quick to say that while he would welcome a new detention center, he would want the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to run it, not a private entity.
He described what Herenton wants to do as a “pretrial detention facility” that would be secure.
Herenton, speaking to Memphis City Council members in a Tuesday, July 25, presentation, described what he wants to do as a “state-of-the-art facility with education, medical rehabilitation” and other similar services.
“It is deplorable the condition that these young people are housed in in Memphis Juvenile Court,” Herenton told the council. “We have a moral obligation to do something better by those kids.”
Michael agrees that the detention center, and probably the rest of the Juvenile Court building, needs an overhaul.
As he talked of Herenton’s proposal the day before the former mayor took the idea to the council, Michael was already mapping out how a separate detention facility outside the Juvenile Court building but near it would allow him to move juvenile public defenders into the court.
As mayor for 17 years and as Memphis City Schools superintendent before that, Herenton rarely hesitated to bring up a controversy if he felt it was the elephant in the room.
But while he alluded this week to the emotional debate about whether U.S. Justice Department oversight of Shelby County Juvenile Court should continue or end, Herenton didn’t go there – almost.
“I just want to get a problem solved. … I’m not speaking unkindly of legislators. All I have seen is rhetoric, people talking,” he told the council. “This to me represents action. We are not asking the city of Memphis for any of your money, no incentive, no grants. Aren’t you pleased to hear that?”
Herenton wants a council resolution to take to state officials as he seeks to have juvenile offenders who now are sent to the Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville once their cases are adjudicated sent to his proposed New Path center Downtown.
In a pitch to Shelby County commissioners last year for two New Path campuses for juvenile offenders, Herenton made much the same point – that the Somerville center consists mainly of children from Memphis and that they and their families would be better served in Memphis. He also said the lack of a Memphis center represented a flow of approximately $17 million in state revenues that go to Somerville instead of Memphis.
Michael is also no fan of the trip to Somerville, saying children from Memphis sent to Wilder “might as well be on the moon.”
Last year’s commission discussion included some general support but also some sharp differences when commissioner David Reaves questioned Herenton closely on the school at Northside and a charter school run by Herenton that closed shortly after they opened when they didn’t draw enough enrollment.
Council members had little to say about the new proposal Tuesday and asked no questions of Herenton. Herenton passed out written material on the proposal as well as his more general call for $2.5 million in city funds to match New Path funding for a longer-range plan with Shelby County Schools for two prekindergarten centers in the Whitehaven and Frayser areas. And he urged the council members to read over it at their leisure.
City chief operating officer Doug McGowen said the city’s real estate division is doing “background work” on Herenton’s request for the inspection station on the way to some kind of asking price.
“They are in the process right now of trying to understand what the market value is and what its needs are,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to be as accommodating as we can. … I’m sure the dialogue will continue after that as far as what the needs are.”