State approval needed for Shelby County's new approach to combat juvenile crime

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Shelby County and City of Memphis leaders said they will be looking to state lawmakers in this legislative session to greenlight a new way of handling juvenile justice in Memphis.

"The assessment center is really our initiative to try to embrace the troubled youth in our community," said Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

Luttrell said the Juvenile Assessment Center would be a pilot program and given legislative support in Nashville from state lawmakers, it could be on the ground and operating by late summer.

The cost remains unknown, and the location isn't certain either.

"It's a plan that's going to require a tremendous amount of community support from a variety of organizations," Luttrell said.

Seventeen juveniles were killed in Memphis in 2017, up from 11 in 2016.

This past weekend, 14-year-old Gabrielle Harris was shot and killed washing dishes in a Whitehaven home.

"We know that juvenile crime is an issue," Luttrell said.

Luttrell said discussions about creating a center to provide mental health and substance abuse counseling assessments have been in the works for a year.

County delegations have traveled to Denver and Miami to view centers there, where social services are concentrated in one area.

The new facility would not be located at the Juvenile Court building on Adams Avenue. Luttrell said that's by design, as the youth would be taken somewhere else and assessed before simply being brought to detention.

The reason the plan needs lawmaker approval is because currently, the juvenile justice system is the only legal authority to deal with young offenders.

Luttrell said the local delegation of state lawmakers are aware, and the city and county have made it clear this plan is a priority this session. The mayor believes it's a key step in combating juvenile crime.

"It's not a matter of reinventing the wheel," Luttrell said, "The services are in the community. It's a matter of coordinating the services under one umbrella."

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