CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The state of Tennessee is short on places to house kids accused of crimes, so much so that some are going home instead of staying in custody, or being sent out of the county.
It’s a reality in Montgomery County and commissioners are hoping to change the problem.
On Tuesday night, a town hall was held in Clarksville with only one topic of discussion – a new center to house minors accused of crimes.
“Individuals who get caught up in those types of situations, it’s ideal to be able to have a place within the county to place those children in custody,” said Jason Knight, a Montgomery County commissioner.
News 2 brought up specific incidents, including a shooting at West Creek High School during a football game.
The Clarksville Police Department and Tennessee Highway Patrol also responded to the incident and detained one adult and two minors. At the scene, deputies recovered shell casings and a firearm and seized one vehicle.
Then, two teens were accused of pistol-whipping an 80-year-old man. Clarksville police said the 14 and 15-year-olds then took off in the victim’s car and led police on a chase across state lines.
Right now, there is no place to keep teens coming out of court since the county does not have a Juvenile Justice Center. Instead, teens are either being sent home or they are being transported out of the county.
“Imagine you have to put in the manning, pay for the manning of the individual officer to take and transport that individual child to that particular location. You have the cost of fuel to do that as well, and then you have to pay for the bed that they are staying at that particular facility. So, if we had one here within our community, then that eliminates some of those costs,” explained Knight.
Earlier this year, News 2 spoke with District Attorney Robert Nash, who explained the reality of juvenile crime that he sees.
“We do have young people that are being involved in attempted murders, murders, so it is a fact of life right now that is occurring amongst our youth,” Nash said, during that interview.
During the town hall, Commissioner David Shelton gave a presentation as he explained the reasons why a juvenile center is needed. During the conversation, he took a look at the numbers that showed so far in 2023, there have been 3,592 juvenile cases, but only 120 teens have been detained.
Shelton continued to take a look at the current conditions of teens who commit serious crimes. During the presentation, he explained how a section of the Montgomery County Jail is supposed to be set aside for juveniles, who have been convicted of crimes as an adult. When this happens, the teens should stay in county lock up until they turn 18, then they’re transferred to the state prison system. Currently, there are 48 beds as part of this system, but the total number of juvenile inmates in this section is zero, according to the presentation.
Knight explained there are supporters on both sides of the issue.
“There are some who think that it’s a pipeline to prison or a means of incarcerating African American or minority children in the community, and then there are those who think it’s a great opportunity to have a place for children to stay,” said Knight.
News 2 asked Knight directly if he would support a new facility, and he said he would.
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“[It would] help identify some of the issues that may be underlining, that’s causing the child to act out in a particular way or commit any particular crime, or if they have some sort of mental health concern that they need addressed, and having that resource center and those resources available at that location would be ideal in helping to assist them,” Knight explained.
The county commission will vote on next year’s budget in June. The Budget Committee is recommending adding money to buy land for a new juvenile justice center.