The ages of children committing serious crimes in Nashville are getting younger. There have been changes to the Davidson County Juvenile Justice system that aim to keep the children who enter the system from coming back.
The Davidson County Juvenile Detention Center houses children who face serious charges. They are held there while awaiting trial or a transfer to the adult system.
At the time of our visit, 13 was the age of the youngest child being housed there.
There is about 40 youth staying at the center at any given time. They are in class six hours a day, and they have access to a library and recreation.
Over the last four years, Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway has implemented many changes at the center.
In 2014, Judge Calloway got rid of the shackles the children would wear when being transferred. She also changed their outfits from orange jumpsuits to polos and pants.
“It helps them to not see themselves for what they did, but who they are,” Judge Calloway told News 2. “They may have made a mistake but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn their lives around and change for the better.”
The center aims to give the children the things they may not get at home – structure and support. They are also given an education and access to programs like music and culinary arts.
“In order for these kids to be successful they need wrap-around services,” said Dallas Scott, Vice President of Programs for Youth Opportunity Investments. Youth Opportunity operates the center.
Scott said if there is a fight or someone doesn’t follow the rules, a disciplinary hearing is held. Then, a child’s privileges are taken away, but they have a chance to earn them back.
“It’s to teach the child about the behaviors that they’ve displayed and give them a natural consequence,” said Scott.
The court believes the changes are working. Violent crime committed by juveniles is down 7 percent so far this year compared to last year.
“We have got to step the effort up to put in place things out in the community to prevent them from coming in here,” said Judge Calloway. “I do feel strongly about the youth that if they’re coming here there are less of them that are returning.”
In 2016, a law was passed requiring a reason for a child to be shackled.
Judge Calloway said in her four years, she has had no reason to shackle a child and there have not been any issues in her courtroom.
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