County leaders ask commission for $700K for juvenile assessment center

SHELBY COUNTY, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Commissioners are debating changes to the way juvenile offenders are handled in an effort to keep them out of juvenile court, but the program needs funding to get off the ground.

The concept of the youth assessment center is modeled after a successful program in Miami, Florida. The goal is to keep youth from getting here to juvenile detention.

"We have created a concept, but you don't have any funding around it so it's just a concept," Dorcas Young Griffin, director of Community Services for Shelby County, said.

Shelby County leaders are asking commissioners to approve almost $700,000 in next year's budget to create a juvenile assessment center--a place where clinicians and psychiatrists can look at youth and families before simply taking the teens to juvenile court and into the system.

Juvenile court has been under federal Department of Justice monitoring for years, though some terms were lifted last year. Issues of racial disparity remain a focus.

County leaders said the state has offered conditional grant funding for the assessment center and The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is willing to be a partner.

"If there isn't one, we'll have the same old thing that we've always had. Kids who fall through the cracks. Families who are not well served. A future generation that does not make the kind of contribution to our community and society in general. We want to see that change," Dr. Altha Steward, director of the Center for Justice Involved Youth for UTHSC, said.

County leaders also revealed they're in negotiations with Core Civic to lease a detention facility off Old Getwell Road to serve as a new juvenile detention center, replacing the outdated facility on Adams Avenue.

"We had an assessment done. We did a master plan review of it, and the suggestion there was not to renovate but to get something new," Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy said.

The owners will have to do $11 million in upgrades, and it could cost the county between $1.5-2.5 million yearly in a 10-year lease.

It's possible the county could lease that facility to own.

If juvenile detention moves, juvenile court would still remain on Adams, though at least one courtroom would be set up at the new location.

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