NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A judge who oversees violent juvenile crimes is seeing a decrease in the number of cases crossing her desk.
“We have decreased significantly over the years,” said Judge Sheila Calloway, Metro Nashville-Davidson County Juvenile Court Judge.
According to Calloway’s office, in 2017 and 2018 there were more than 1,000 serious juvenile crimes in Nashville. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, those numbers have been going down and staying low. In 2021, there were 523 serious juvenile crimes.
Calloway said the same trend has continued into this year.
“It seems like there may be a decrease,” she said. “I was talking to my administrator earlier about how for a minute things seemed very calm and we didn’t have a lot of serious crimes coming into the court.”
Calloway attributed the decline in part to community efforts to engage kids in Nashville.
“When we bring back a village that helps our youth,” she said.
Yet, she said there is more work to be done to make it harder for teens to access handguns, support their mental health, and explain to them the consequences of their actions.
“There is just a lack of understanding of the consequences of what’s happening,” Calloway said.
The most serious juvenile cases come to Calloway and she said she often is faced with the question of whether or not to try some teenagers as adults.
She explained there is probable cause a child committed the offense and is not mentally ill; there is also a six-prong test to determine if they should be transferred to the adult system.
“It’s about community safety. So, we are looking at whether they are amenable to treatment and rehabilitation, what have the efforts of treatment and rehabilitation been previously, what have been their other issues with the law,” Calloway explained.
She explained it’s a long process, but it’s one that some want to modify with a change to state law.
Currently, there are two options for judges trying a juvenile: try them in adult court and potentially put them behind bars for 50 years, or try them as a child and release them by the time they are 19.
“Once a juvenile is sentenced, let’s say for carjacking, and reaches their 19th birthday, supervision ends, regardless of whether the supervision is in the community or in a secure facility,” explained Shelby Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons.
The third option Gibbons and others want the legislature to consider adding to state law would be what’s called “blended sentencing.”
“It allows judge discretion on a case-by-case basis depending on the facts and circumstances to keep the person in the juvenile court system beyond age 19. Maybe that’s 21. Maybe that’s age 25,” Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said.
But like so many other programs, it would cost time, money, and lawmaker support to put in place.