NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Before Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) released his official proclamation for special session, the common thought was it’d have just a little bit on juvenile justice.
So when over a quarter of it involved juvenile justice – including a potential proposal to blend juvenile and adult sentences – it caught advocates off guard.
“Sending youth to the adult system makes our communities less safe,” Zoë Jamail said.
“It’s the 18-25-year-old range that really is committing the majority of crime when it comes to young people,” Jamail said. “It’s not that 10-17 age group.”
When reporters asked Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) about the data, he said it doesn’t accurately reflect the situation.
“Well, it’s decreasing on the number of people who are being arrested. What I will say, if you go down to Shelby County, like I was down there multiple times this year, you talk to any resident down there, juvenile crime’s run amuck,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to tell you juvenile crime is decreasing in Shelby County.”
But Jamail said data doesn’t lie.
“Data really indicates that the juvenile justice system is much more effective at rehabilitating and preventing recidivism than the adult court system,” she said.
Sexton floated the idea of blending juvenile and adult sentences as part of his reform, potentially sending some juveniles to adult prison.
“Being able to have them be blended to where you can move them over to adult population if they don’t meet certain criteria, I think is the right step to go,” he said.
Jamail pushed back on that, saying most juveniles in adult jails tend to have higher recidivism and abuse rates. Plus, she argued, roughly 70% of juveniles in the court system have some sort of mental health issue.
“We should be funneling supplies and services into that space,” Jamail said. “Not removing youth from that space and putting them into a space where they have zero chance at rehabilitation or at receiving the age-appropriate treatment.”