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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | TN

Tennessee: 2012 | 2011 | 2009 



  • Facility Closures and Downsizing — Tennessee Closes Youth Facility: In July of 2012, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services closed Taft Youth Development Center, a nearly 100-year-old facility housing approximately 80 youth. The youth housed at Taft were relocated to three other facilities in the state. The closure was a result of major state budget reductions and is projected to save the state $8.5 million annually.
  • Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) — U.S. Department of Justice Investigation Leads to Consent Decree Addressing Disparate Treatment of African-American Youth: A comprehensive, multi-year investigation of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County and the Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed racial discrimination, widespread violations of youth’s due process rights, and excessively harsh treatment of detained youth. Specifically, the investigation found disparate treatment of African-American youth at almost every phase of the juvenile justice system, failure to provide adequate due process protections to youth before transferring them to adult court, failure to provide timely and adequate notice of delinquency charges, and unnecessary and excessive use of restraints, among other violations. Shelby County and DOJ entered into a consent decree in December of 2012, which includes specific remedial measures in the areas of due process, disparate treatment, protection from harm for detained youth, and community outreach.

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  • Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Law Clarifies Placement Procedures: A new Tennessee law clarifies several issues related to the placement of youth in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS). First, the law clarifies the juvenile court’s authority regarding placement of a youth pending potential transfer to adult court; the placement must be consistent with the best interest of the youth. Typically, the juvenile court is in the best position to determine what is in the best interest of the youth, given its overall focus on rehabilitation and often substantial history with the youth. The law additionally clarifies the procedure for placing a youth at home through a trial home pass and addresses procedural issues related to early release of a youth with a determinate sentence, discharge of a youth on probation or a home placement, and a youth’s violation of the terms of his or her placement. This increased clarity is intended to help improve the efficiency of court procedures, thereby helping to move youth through the system more quickly, avoid unnecessary delays, and ensure due process. H.B. 713/Ch. 486, signed into law June 16, 2011; effective July 1, 2011.

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  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse — State Works to Improve Mental Health Evaluations and Screening: The Tennessee General Assembly established a program to reimburse counties for the incidental costs related to outpatient mental health evaluations of youth charged with felonies, such as costs of detention and transportation to outpatient evaluations. Prior to the new law, the state paid in full only for inpatient mental health evaluations, which created an incentive for counties to use the more costly and sometimes unnecessary inpatient evaluations, rather than less costly, more appropriate, and less invasive outpatient evaluations. The legislation was followed by a new federal grant in 2010 to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop and implement the Integrated Court Screening and Referral Project in ten counties. The program screens youth charged with delinquency for mental health issues in order to better identify youth who need mental health and substance abuse services. Nearly 2,000 youth were screened through the program between October 2010 and February 2012; 61 percent of those youth received referrals for at least one service. H.B. 459/Ch. 593, signed into law July 8, 2009; effective August 17, 2009.

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Photo: Frank Kehren, under Creative Commons License.