TN task force begins probe of juvenile justice system

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The following comes by way of Dentons50 partner Adam Nickas of Capitol Resources.

Tennessee’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice began its work last week with the goal of closely examining, “from top to bottom,” the juvenile justice system and recommend policy changes heading into the 2018 legislative session.

In coordination with Pew Charitable Trust and their technical team, the task force will review data and research to identify what Tennessee is doing well and what needs to be done differently to-

1) protect public safety;

2) effectively hold juvenile offenders accountable;

3) contain costs; and

4) improve outcomes for youth, families, and communities in Tennessee.

The task force is chaired by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and consists of 19 members, including representatives from the Department of Children’s Services, Administrative Office of the Courts, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, the Shelby County Juvenile Court, and Metro Nashville Police Department’s Youth Services Division.

Pew Charitable Trust, which has previously spearheaded similar efforts in 7 other states, will take the lead in reviewing data, statutes and court rules and will share impressions with task force members.  Pew will also share research and experiences from other states whom they have partnered with, including Alabama who began their study a couple weeks ago. The Crime & Justice Institute (CJI) is also partnering with Pew on this effort.

Much of the discussion today centered around the cost and effectiveness of out-of-home placement for juvenile offenders compared to community-based supervision. Each one of the seven states that Pew has previously worked with was initially spending large amounts of money on out-of-home/residential placements. Despite that, they were not seeing a return on public safety; in fact, they were experiencing high recidivism rates (65% recidivism in Georgia).

Two findings from Pew’s national research show that community-based alternatives result in greater reductions in rearrests; and longer lengths of stay in out-of-home placements do not reduce the likelihood of being re-arrested.

According to a Pew survey, 85% of voters agree that preventing crime is more important to them than how long juvenile offenders are incarcerated.

As a result of reforms made in Georgia, since 2014, their state has invested $37 million in county-based grant programs, resulting in a 36% decrease in population in state secure facilities and a 46% decrease in state commitments.

The next meeting of the Tennessee task force will be on July 26th.