By John Kelly
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) is pushing legislation that would make several changes to the state’s juvenile justice policies and spending plans, including limitations on the use of detention and increased resources for rural parts of the state.
The full bill has not been made public, but the administration released an outline of the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. Among the provisions:
- Implementing length-of-stay standards to prevent overly long stays in commitment facilities.
- Steps to limit the use of pretrial detention and out-of-home placements to youth who have committed “serious” crimes or pose a “public safety risk.”
- “Encouragement” to handle bad school behavior and minor technical violations of probation without involving the courts.
The bill will also require the construction of a uniform data collection process for the state on juvenile justice outcomes, and mandate the use of a validated risk/need assessment for determining the level of placement for juvenile offenders. Also, nonprofits and other private providers with the state’s Department of Children’s Services would be subject to performance-based contracts going forward.
The proposal comes a few months after the release of a final report from the Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The report found that almost half of the youth in out-of-home placements in the state were there for misdemeanors, status offenses and probation violations.
The bill also includes changes to state policies on transferring juveniles into the adult system, although the task force report did address that. It follows the task force’s recommendation that the list of offenses be narrowed for which a youth older than 13 could be transferred to adult court, and that any youth 13 or younger should not be transferred for any offense other than homicide or attempted homicide.
According to the report, 74 percent of the youth transferred in Tennessee are black.
“The bill takes an important step in the right direction in restricting the type of offenses and age of youth that are eligible for transfer to the adult court,” said Marcy Mistrett, CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice. “That said, Tennessee certainly has the opportunity to go farther, and restrict children under age 14 from being transferred at all.”