Commissioners debate if juveniles should be held in adult jail

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Should teenagers charged with crimes be held in adult jail? That's the question that had Shelby County commissioners split Monday night.

Advocates argued before Shelby County commissioners to stop transferring juveniles to adult jails altogether. Instead, they want to keep them in the juvenile system.

That was the case involving a Binghampton teen allegedly shot by another teen.

"I don't know what to say," Melvin Burgess said.  "I mean, shame on us. Shame on us."

Some Shelby County commissioners are not happy with how the county handled then-15-year-old Teriyona Winton's case.

Winton is charged as an adult with the 2017 murder of 17-year-old Deago Brown in Binghampton.

She was put in solitary confinement and kept away from adult inmates as mandated by the state.

"What we know about brain science, there is no way on earth we should isolate children, so it impacted her, traumatized her like it would any kid," said Winton's attorney Josh Spickler.

Advocates told commissioners that girls are often treated differently because it's rare for female juveniles to be charged as an adult.

There is simply nowhere to put them, so they are often sent more than 200 miles away to Nashville, away from family and their attorneys.

Lisa Geis with the Children's Defense Clinic at the University of Memphis told commissioners Tennessee law does not require children be kept in adult facilities while awaiting trial as an adult.

Geis said instead, they should stay in juvenile facilities.

"They have the school there," Geis said. "They're right above the courts, the right access to the lawyers. Building a bigger, space is just a bigger cage to put our kids in."

However, not everyone is on board. Commissioner Terry Roland doesn't want to focus on the defendant, but the victim, who is no longer here.

"I still look at the victim," Roland said. "I think about the victim. What would I do if that was my child, that she walked up and shot. What would I do? I would probably want to do more than have her locked up."

The Shelby County Commission did pass Commissioner Mark Billingsley's resolution to find better solutions for dealing with juvenile defendants.

As for Winton, she is no longer in Nashville. She is closer to home in a facility about 50 miles away, where she gets more recreation time and is closer to her family.

Whether or not she will be allowed to transfer back here to Memphis Juvenile facility remains to be seen.

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