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Memphis Utilizes Alternative Program to Handle Juvenile Justice Cases

Memphis is home to a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative designed to support the Annie E. Casey Foundation's vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop healthy and productive lives. Credit: larryfarr/morguefile.com
Memphis is home to a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative designed to support the Annie E. Casey Foundation's vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop healthy and productive lives. Credit: larryfarr/morguefile.com
September 30, 2015

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Memphis is one of dozens of cities across the nation with a new initiative that aims to keep young people out of the juvenile justice system by offering alternatives when they break the law.

Nate Balis director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, said the program - the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative - came about after decades of documented abuse in juvenile-detention centers and disparities regarding which youths were being locked up.

"Ensuring that it's done equitably in terms of gender, and particularly race and ethnicity," he said, "and making sure that young people who are in detention are in environments that are safe and that they're there for the shortest amount of time."

One focus of supporters of the initiative is ending solitary confinement, which is also called isolation, segregation or seclusion. Research shows it is damaging to young people - and teens have even died in such situations. This week, professionals involved with JDAI are in Phoenix to discuss the program's success.

Balis said JDAI sites have seen reductions in daily juvenile-detention populations and declines in detention sentencings - both by at least 40 percent. Additionally, he said, public safety is still top of mind.

"It's been accomplished without any harm to public safety," he said, "and, in fact, if we look across sites, we see juvenile crime down by almost half since they started JDAI."

According to the Tennessee Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, as of 2013 there were almost 83,000 children referred to juvenile courts across the state, with more than 11,000 of them being from Memphis.

More information on Memphis JDAI is online at shelbycountytn.gov. State data is at tncourts.gov.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN