Shelby County Commission to vote on first step towards juvenile justice center

New juvenile detention facility vote

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris spoke Sunday morning at Metropolitan Baptist Church in South Memphis, making one final push for a new juvenile justice facility.

Juvenile justice reform is the first issue newly-elected Mayor Harris has chosen to tackle.

Harris told the congregation that he wants the new center to be smaller.

“With fewer beds, in order to force everyone in this community to begin to look for alternatives to incarceration in the first place,” said Harris.

Monday, the commission will vote on the first step of the design process, by granting $1.3 million to begin.

However, some commissioners like Tami Sawyer and Edmund Ford Junior have expressed concerns that a new building would solve of the current issues with the juvenile justice system.

“I feel like we’re putting a new ‘sell-by-date’ on a spoiled bottle of milk,” said Sawyer.

New juvenile detention facility vote

The new center is estimated to cost $25 million.

Sawyer said those funds could be used for programs for juvenile offenders.

“Resources such as a new building are going to be nice when they get in there, right? But how do we stop from getting in there? And that’s what I’m really concerned with and that’s the question we’re not answering,” said Sawyer.

Commissioner Edmund Ford Junior took to Facebook on Saturday, saying that he also doubts if a new juvenile justice facility is the answer.

Sawyer said she will present alternative resolutions at the commission meeting.

“I would hope are readily adoptable. That way we can move forward and also know that our money is being invested in the right way,” said Sawyer.

"Part of the solution is building a facility that has adequate access to classrooms, recreational space, windows. We have to make sure the children have a real shot at learning while they're incarcerated," said Harris.

Understanding the brewing battle, Harris told the congregation this:

“I would ask you to pray that I find open minds on Monday,” said Harris.

Sawyer, however, remains hesitant.

"I just have a hesitancy to put my name on a stamp of a building that is not addressing the school to prison pipeline and the systemic racism that exists in our juvenile justice system," said Sawyer.

Most commissioners have expressed support for the project. so it is unclear if others will join Ford and Sawyer to derail the project.

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