VOL. 132 | NO. 119 | Thursday, June 15, 2017
Norris to Oversee Second Panel Reviewing Juvenile Justice
By Sam Stockard
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris is set to oversee a comprehensive review of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system in an effort to reshape the lives of offenders.
Norris, a Collierville Republican, will join House Speaker Beth Harwell in co-chairing the blue ribbon task force, a 19-member panel charged with recommending policy based on state data to form legislation as the 2018 session of the General Assembly nears. The group will focus on protecting the public, holding offenders accountable and containing costs while improving the outcomes of juveniles, according to a release.
The task force, which will include Gov. Bill Haslam or a top administration representative, is committed to putting juvenile offenders “back on track for success,” said Norris, who served on the state’s Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force in 2015-16.
“This task force is a significant opportunity for us to examine fact- and evidence-based data to reform our system to achieve all of these goals,” Norris said.
The group will work with the PEW Charitable Trusts to put together the information it needs to make decisions on the direction of juvenile justice. The most recent task force said data could show whether juvenile justice should be broken into a separate division from the Department of Children’s Services.
“It can help determine whether Tennessee is doing what’s necessary to effectively deter delinquency and decrease crime,” Norris says.
As a result of last year’s work, Norris backed legislation offering juveniles more educational opportunities in addition to efforts to scale back court practices considered too punitive.
State Rep. Karen Camper, a Memphis Democrat, is among those on the task force.
“Juvenile justice reform is one of the pressing issues facing Tennessee right now,” she said.
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators started a reform effort two years ago, Camper said, “because we have to find alternatives to locking up juveniles, miring them in the criminal justice system and keeping them from become productive citizens one day.”
Camper noted she is “encouraged” with the selections made to the task force, which was announced by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, and looks forward to working with them.
Noting the General Assembly has expressed interest in juvenile justice reform, Harwell said, “I believe our work can lead to comprehensive and innovative solutions.”
The PEW Charitable Trusts study will explore the effectiveness of probation services for juveniles in an effort to keep them out of further detention and look at the performance of Tennessee’s youth development centers in treating and rehabilitating young people.
Detention for status offenses such as truancy and running away from home is a focal point because Tennessee is among 16 states whose juvenile courts send children to detention for those violations. About six of the state’s 95 counties issued 80 percent of roughly 4,500 court orders in 2014.
Probation services and screening are keys to the future of juveniles. In fiscal 2016, 4,026 youths were on state probation at a cost of $23.19 each day with an average of 195 days, costing a total of $4,522 per youth. Shelby County and the other three urban counties use their own probation systems for youths with more serious offenses.
In addition to several state leaders, Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and state Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, are to serve on the panel. It is to meet monthly through the summer and fall.
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.