Shelby Co. initiative steers kids away from juvenile court

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Steering kids away from the system is the goal of a criminal justice initiative in Shelby County.

Now, it's gaining national recognition.

"It breaks my heart as a juvenile court judge that I have to say to you that we have children upstairs charged with first-degree murder," said Judge Dan Michael.

Michael makes it clear that kids with serious offenses belong behind bars. That being said…

"Don't be bringing me kids who are being kids," Michael said. "We were getting way too many transports that do not need to come here."

That's why he's happy to say juvenile court has reduced its transports by 78 percent over the past five years.

In 2012, he said 6,900 kids were detained and charged in juvenile court. The latest numbers from last year show only 890 kids were brought in.

"If they're scaring you pulling a gun on you, they need to be here," Michael said. "But, if they're just ticking you off because they're juveniles, that's what juveniles are supposed to do."

Michael said in the past five years, his court has been working with schools and local law enforcement to only bring down kids on major offenses, hoping to keep those kids from getting a record and to simply give them a second chance.

In fact, through juvenile court's summons review team, 1,100 kids have been diverted from the system since October.

"If it's your first offense and it's a simple one, you might just get a phone call," Michael said.

Parents had mixed reactions.

"If it's the first offense, I think you should give them a chance," parent Erica Williams said.

"I went to juvenile before," parent Tommy Seymour said. "It didn't take but one time, and I've been on the straight and narrow path ever since."

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges is currently in Memphis, reviewing the city's juvenile system as a model for other juvie courts across the country.

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