Juvenile justice a priority for new Shelby County commissioners

Juvenile justice a priority for new Shelby County commissioners

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Juvenile justice in Shelby County is one of the most pressing issues facing the new county commission, as well as Mayor Lee Harris.

Commissioners will need to decide how to replace an aging juvenile detention center--one that Judge Dan Michael has called "abysmal."

"We're not interested in building jails for young people," Shelby County Commission Chairman Van Turner said.

Turner and vice chair Mark Billingsley agree that the county needs a new approach to juvenile justice.

"I think we've got to look at putting some money into early intervention services so you don't get juveniles in the pipeline," Billingsley said.

The Luttrell administration proposed leading a now-empty detention facility off of Old Getwell Road to serve as a new juvenile detention center at a cost of $2 million per year for 10 years.

It would replace the current setup at juvenile court, a building rife with problems because of its age and setup.

The previous administration panned the lease at the end of their term, saying it would be too much like a prison, and they also opened the door to the county constructing its own new facility, which would cost at least $50 million.

"Certainly we've got to address the most immediate needs of a detention center," Billingsley said. "I think they're currently inadequate; if that means we're going to renovate the existing facilities or own one outright."

Turner said it's a pressing matter that needs to be addressed quickly.

Turner and Billingsley said the county must provide more wrap-around services like counseling once juveniles first come into contact with the system.

In the most recent budget, commissioners funded $700,000 toward starting a juvenile assessment center at UT Health Sciences Center.

"We have to look at rehabilitation honestly and I think very intentionally," Turner said.

In a statement, Lee Harris said:

"Citizens expect a thorough, sober review of the challenges in our juvenile justice system. They expect Shelby County Government to rehabilitate as many young lives as possible."

The Luttrell administration tried to get juvenile court released from Department of Justice monitoring, but it appears Harris won't take the same approach.

His team announced Monday he has tapped Memphis attorney and former MLGW head Herman Morrison to be the settlement coordinator in the agreement between the court, county, and DOJ.

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