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VOL. 132 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 15, 2017

Juvenile Justice Summit Touts Sustained Contact Out of Court

By Bill Dries

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Memphis-Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael says he should have more definitive plans for a Juvenile Assessment Center by the fall.

Michael talked about the center that “will divert every child from juvenile court for assessment on the front end before they ever get to court,” at the second annual Juvenile Justice Summit Tuesday, June 13, at Hickory Ridge Mall.

Judge Dan Michael told an audience at the Juvenile Justice Summit Tuesday, June 13, at Hickory Ridge Mall that keeping youths out of the Juvenile Court system will help curb crime in Memphis. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

Michael cited a cost of $184,000 to keep a juvenile in detention for a year.

“If you are a conservative, don’t want to spend money, want to save taxes, help me work in this community to keep kids out of the juvenile justice system,” he told the group of 100 from agencies and other groups that work with Juvenile Court system locally. “If in your heart you want to bring this community out of the crime wave that we are now facing, help me keep kids out of the juvenile justice system. “Children can do some bad things. But you don’t judge the children by the act,” he added. “You judge the act and hold them responsible for their actions. We are more than our actions.”

The partnerships represented in the Tuesday gathering were an alphabet shop of acronyms.

The assessment center some of those groups are working toward is referred to as JAC – not to be confused with the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) that is pronounced Jedi – like the Star Wars term – or MARRS, Mediation and Restitution Reconciliation Services, as well as GRASSY – Gang Reduction Assistance for Saving Society’s Youth.

Judge Dan Michael speaking at the Juvenile Justice Summit at Hickory Ridge Mall. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

All were represented.

The monthly interagency report from Juvenile Court for the month of May lists 18 different partnership programs with the court.

Kimbrell Owens, the site coordinator for JDAI, said they are “partnerships that you can’t dismiss lightly.”

The group heard from Nathaniel Higdon, now in his early 20s, who credits the MARRS program with turning his life around “even though I didn’t make the best choices before that or after that.” Although Higdon said his parents didn’t see MARRS that way.

“They don’t think it had any effect on anyone,” he said.

The gathering also heard from several juveniles in detention who are part of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office program “Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out For Change,” who pushed for sustained contact even when there are setbacks.

Because they are still in the juvenile justice system, The Daily News agreed not to use their names.

“You can’t talk to them one time,” one teenager said of his constant interaction with relatives and others after he got in trouble.

“You have to be persistent. When you talk to a kid one time and you fade away – they don’t see you no more. … they will fade with you,” he said. “You have to keep pushing.”

A second teenager in juvenile detention called on the adults to “understand where students come from and not look at us as just another statistic but as something more.”

Intervention on a constant basis is a philosophy Shelby County Schools has turned to as a first indicator of problems that come from outside the schools. And SCS officials cite it as a factor in the 13 percent reduction in disciplinary incidents in the school year that ended last month compared to the previous school year.

Ron Pope, SCS manager of student safety, said some students come to school from home where they sleep in bathtubs instead of beds to dodge bullets, and with parents who may have drug problems.

“How does that child come to school the next day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?” Pope asked. “We need to be thinking about the process when that boy comes to school the next morning and says ‘Leave me the hell alone.’”

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