We originally published this post in October of 2017 when the concept of the Juvenile Assessment Center for Memphis was rolled out. The Commercial Appeal ran a series of pieces — both for and against – JACs. We are re-publishing this piece as the legislation that authorizes a pilot JAC in Shelby County (HB2428/SB2624 ) is currently being debated by the Tennessee General Assembly.
“There has been no evidence that JACs have a positive impact on DMC (Disproportionate Minority Contact) and, in fact, there is concern they could make it worse. If net widening does occur, it will sweep in more youth from the inner-city than the suburbs.”
– Bill Powell, settlement agreement coordinator for the U.S. Justice Department’s Memorandum of Agreement with Shelby County Juvenile Court from 2012 until he resigned in June. Powell served three mayors as the county’s criminal justice coordinator.
The Commercial Appeal looked at what Memphis justice advocates had to say about the proposal to create what are commonly called Juvenile Assessment Centers (JAC) in Shelby County. The previous week, the Commercial Appeal published pieces from those in support of JACs. The idea is to intervene with resources in the lives of young people who get into trouble, so that they do not get entangled in the criminal justice system. If developed, the facility will be called a Youth Assessment and Resource Center or (YARC).
But a major concern is that this center could result in “net widening” and actually bring more young people of color into an already broken system.
Click this story link to read Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner’s perspective. Commissioner Turner says anyone serious about addressing poverty and crime in Memphis should be paying close attention to what happens in Juvenile Court and with the proposed JACs
Bill Powell, the original settlement coordinator for the DOJ’s agreement with Shelby County also brought in his experience. Powell resigned this summer after learning the County and Juvenile Court had sent a letter to the DOJ requesting the agreement be terminated. Read his piece here.
Rev. Cheryl Beard, a leader of Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope is concerned that our community is approaching reform of the juvenile justice system as a “checklist” – her thoughts are outlined here.
Prof. Demetria Frank with the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law founded Project M.I., an advocacy group focused on mass incarceration and juvenile justice. Prof. Frank sounds the alarm that because Shelby County Juvenile Court has still not made progress in the equal protection of black children, it is destined to repeat the same culture in the JACs. Read her article here.
Read all the stories from those who are both concerned and supportive of building a JAC in Memphis here.
You can also learn more about the DOJs decision to terminate portions of the Juvenile Court agreement here.