With the promise of the new year came the promise of a Juvenile Justice Reform Act for Tennessee introduced in January 2018. It was developed after more than two years of work by two different task forces aided by the nationally respected Pew Center for Research.
The bill that was introduced by Governor Haslam in his January State of the State Address set out to drastically reduce the number of children detained, lower costs to the state and allow for reinvestment into programs that could further prevent children from involvement in the juvenile justice system. The reduction in detentions was expected to reach 36% by 2024 at a savings of $36 million dollars.
But what passed as law just four months later and went into effect July 1, 2018… is dramatically different.
Due to pressure from juvenile court judges and district attorney generals from across the state, the bill was practically rewritten in one amendment. Instead of reducing the detention of children by double digits each year, the amended bill now will decrease detentions by just 2% each year, resulting little savings to the state. In fact, the amendment will instead cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars every year by failing to meaningfully reduce the number of children in state custody. Additionally concerning is that the refusal to reduce detention and, therefore reduce costs, eliminates the logical reinvestment in alternatives to detention (See the fiscal note due to pages, starting on page 3 of the amended bills fiscal note.)
One positive aspect of the original bill that was not changed in the numerous amendments is an annual $4 million investment in mental health programs for youth, but this has been reserved for the state’s numerous rural areas.
This combination of far fewer kids detained and more children and their families — in rural and urban communities — getting the help they need is the promise the original bill brought to our state. That is the promise the enacted law fails to deliver.
“Tennessee missed an incredible opportunity to move forward.” – Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth via The Tennessean
Read these articles about what happened to juvenile justice reform in Tennessee:
Why Some Experts Say An Attempt To Reform Juvenile Justice In Tennessee Came Up Short via Nashville Public Radio
Opinion | New bill derails juvenile justice reform via The Commercial Appeal
Juvenile Justice: The Disservice of Summers Letter And Legislative Failure via Smart City Memphis