Juvenile Justice Task Force Releases Policy Recommendations to Improve Outcomes, Protect Public Safety, and Contain Costs

December 8, 2017

Source: December 7, 2017 Tennessee General Assembly Press Release

Today, the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Tennessee Task Force on Juvenile Justice delivered to state leaders a set of data-driven policy recommendations intended to:

  • Protect public safety and contain costs by focusing system resources on the highest-risk youth;
  • Prevent deeper juvenile justice system involvement of lower-level youth through early response; and
  • Sustain effective practices through continued oversight and reinvestment in a stronger continuum of evidence-based services statewide.

In May 2017, Governor Bill Haslam, Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, House Speaker Beth Harwell, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) collectively committed to creating a bipartisan, inter-branch Task Force on Juvenile Justice to examine how Tennessee might improve juvenile justice outcomes statewide.

The Joint Ad-Hoc Blue Ribbon Tennessee Task Force on Juvenile Justice convened for the first time in June with 21 members representing a wide range of groups, including state leaders from both parties and all three branches of government, legislators, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement, educators, and other experts from the juvenile justice field.

Over the course of six months, the Task Force reviewed Tennessee juvenile justice system data and national research, facilitated stakeholder outreach, and learned from other states like Georgia and Kentucky that have successfully expanded evidence-based services and protected public safety while diverting lower-level youth from deeper system involvement. The Task Force ultimately came to consensus on comprehensive recommendations to serve as the basis for legislation and policy reforms.

“I appreciate the Task Force's work examining our state’s data, gathering input from Tennesseans, and working together to develop a set of recommendations,” said Governor Haslam. “This report will guide the state’s efforts to bolster public safety, spend taxpayer dollars more efficiently, and improve outcomes for youth.”

“The Task Force worked diligently to fulfill our charge by identifying opportunities to improve outcomes for our youth and for our communities,” said Chief Justice Bivins. “The appropriate implementation of these recommendations will strengthen the juvenile justice system by increasing the range of effective community-based options available to judges and juvenile court staff across the state while maintaining judicial discretion.”

The Task Force based its recommendations on the following key findings:

  • Youth charged with lower-level offenses like misdemeanors and unruly offenses (which wouldn’t be crimes if committed by an adult) make up the majority of the juvenile justice population. Nearly half of youth placed in out-of-home facilities are committed for non-felonies.
  • Youth who are put under state supervision are staying longer and have more out-of-home placements during their time in custody than they were five years ago.
  • Community-based interventions that effectively hold youth accountable, reduce recidivism, and keep families intact are not available across the state—especially in rural jurisdictions. A lack of statewide guidance for the courts leads to inconsistent outcomes for youth.
  • Data collection and information sharing is insufficient and inconsistent across the state, leading to a lack of accountability and inability to measure the effectiveness of the juvenile justice system.

“We know there are ways to change Tennessee’s juvenile justice system for the better,” said House Speaker Harwell who served as co-chair of the Task Force. “These recommendations were created by Tennesseans for Tennesseans, and they give us an opportunity to improve the system for juveniles across the state.”

“These data-driven recommendations provide an opportunity for us to align our system with more effective practices and with the values we share as Tennesseans,” said Senate Majority Leader Norris who served as co-chair of the Task Force. “That means less crime, lower costs for taxpayers, and better outcomes for Tennessee’s youth and families.”

The report can be found here.

The Task Force membership includes:

  • Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (Co-chair)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (Co-chair)
  • Clark Milner, Deputy Legal Counsel to the Governor
  • Representative William Lamberth, District 44, House Criminal Justice Committee Chair
  • Senator Brian Kelsey, District 31, Senate Judiciary Chair
  • Senator Doug Overbey, District 2
  • Representative Karen Camper, District 87
  • Director Deborah Tate, Administrative Office of the Courts
  • Judge Vicki Snyder, Henry County
  • Judge Dan Michael, Shelby County
  • Deputy Commissioner Debbie Miller, Department of Children’s Services
  • Director Mike Herrmann, Healthy, Safe and Supportive Schools, Department of Education
  • Dr. Jeff Feix, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • Director Linda O’Neal, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth
  • Russell Johnson, District Attorney, 9th Judicial District
  • Stacy Miller, Assistant District Attorney, 20th Judicial District
  • Christina Kleiser, Assistant Public Defender, 6th Judicial District
  • Commander Gordon Howey, Youth Services Division, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department
  • Dr. Altha Stewart, Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth, University of Tennessee Health Science Center
  • Camille Ratledge, Family Service Worker, Department of Children’s Services
  • Kathy Sinback, Juvenile Court Administrator, Davidson County

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Crime and Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice provided technical assistance to the Task Force at the invitation of Tennessee leadership.