Mayor Harris pushes $1.3M funding to begin process on new juvenile justice center

Mayor Harris pushes #1.3M funding to begin process on new juvenile justice center

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is pushing commissioners to hurry up on initial approvals for a new juvenile justice facility.

This comes after the full commission held off on saying yes to a $1.3 million contract two weeks ago.

Mayor Harris said he worries if this effort doesn't get off the ground soon, this group of county leaders won't be able to see any progress.

The new health department was first discussed with commissioners in 2013, and construction hasn't started yet.

“This problem has festered for a very long time – that facility does not serve a purpose for rehabilitation,” Mayor Harris said.

Mayor Harris said the time has come to replace the county’s juvenile detention facility and do a better job for those detained.

For weeks, Mayor Harris has been lobbying for the construction of a new facility that would have classrooms, recreation areas, and windows with a total cost up to $25 million.

“We need to scrap the facility we have now and take a completely different approach to rehabilitate young folks,” Mayor Harris said.

“We hope we can cut some of the red tape and really get it going,” said Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner.

Sheriff Bonner said he supports the plan but has expressed concern, namely he doesn’t want the proposed facility to be too small.

Two weeks ago, a massive fight broke out at juvenile hall. Multiple teens were injured, and five corrections officers were relieved of duty with pay amid an ongoing investigation.

Sheriff Bonner said he wants officers to have more one-on-one interaction time with juveniles.

“We didn't talk about that at all today – you can build the nicest facility in the country but if you don't staff it and manage it properly children are still at risk and people who were there are still at risk,” said Josh Spickler with Just City.

Wednesday, many county commissioners signaled they're now on board with Mayor Harris's plan.

But commissioner Tami Sawyer said she feels a larger culture shift at juvenile court is needed, especially since the court is no longer under federal watch.

“I cannot reiterate my hesitancy and concerns enough until we address the systemic racism that permeates the juvenile – the youth justice system,” Sawyer said.

The full commission will once again take up the $1.3 million for architecture and design on Monday at its meeting.

If approved, county leaders said the soonest they could break ground would be June of next year.

The Harris administration is also working on processes that would keep more youth from ever encountering juvenile detention.

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