TN lawmakers work to overhaul juvenile justice system

(WMC) - A juvenile justice reform bill with bipartisan support has passed the state house and is moving to the Senate.

Reform could be on its way to Tennessee's juvenile justice system. The goal of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act is to reduce the number of juveniles in the system in Tennessee.

It's a good start to change, according to activists.

"I believe this bill begins to move the needle in the right direction," one activist said.

"It takes some of the discretionary power away from judges and I think that's helpful," another activist said.

The bill is a bipartisan effort that came out of research from a task force formed in 2017.

If passed, it could mean shorter sentences for some lesser offenses with resources focused more on those committing serious crimes.

It also hopes to spread resources to all parts of the state, including $4.5 million budgeted for rural areas. This way, where you live won't determine the type of care you'll get.

The bill additionally is asking for individualized case plans to help better address the issues that are causing juveniles to offend and get them the targeted rehabilitation they need.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said the goal of the bill is to reduce the number of juveniles who end up back in the criminal justice system as adults.

Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan H. Michael issued the following statement:

As Judge of Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, I join with colleagues across Tennessee who are concerned with the proposed Juvenile Justice Reform bill now before the Tennessee Legislature. The governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Juvenile Justice Reform, of which I was a member, agrees that there needs to be significant and positive changes to the state's juvenile justice system. Yet this proposed bill goes far beyond the expectation and recommendations of the members of the Blue Ribbon Commission at this time. If approved in its current form, it will prevent Tennessee's juvenile courts from doing their job in attempting to rehabilitate children in the juvenile justice system.

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