MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There is a new push in the Tennessee Legislature to increase the age of those that can be in juvenile court up to 24 years old.
House Bill 1520 may be a long shot, but backers are hoping that the Republican majority will give it a chance, arguing that there are reasons for both parties to support the idea. With no legislative hurdles, the bill would go into effect July 1.
Still, some opponents of the bill say Shelby County Juvenile Justice System is already overcrowded. They argue that extending the age that someone can be considered a juvenile will only add to the burden.
The legislation’s sponsors say it’s a proven way forward giving the justice system more time to actually rehabilitate young people.
The bill creates a pilot program that will allow juvenile court judges in Shelby County and Davidson County to keep someone in the juvenile court system beyond the current age. Right now, in the Shelby County juvenile court system the court has jurisdiction until someone is 19 years old.
"Some of the more heinous crimes that have occurred in Memphis over the past several months were adult offenders that were at one-point juvenile offenders," Tennesee Senate Minority leader Raumesh Akbari said. "We want to make sure that if someone is in juvenile court custody, they are properly rehabilitated.”
The age increase, proponents say, is all about ensuring that resources are used to prevent juvenile repeat offenders from becoming adult offenders.
If someone over the age of 18 is found to be “amenable to treatment and rehabilitation,” at a juvenile judge’s discretion, that juvenile could receive additional resources from the department of children's services under the bill.
It’s a move District Attorney Steve Mulroy says is needed.
"We all know that when you are a minor your brain still developing, your ability to do impulse control is less," Mulroy said. "The ability to fully appreciate the consequences of your actions is less. And then at the same time, you’re more malleable and thus more amendable to rehabilitation.”
Despite the speaker of the house Cameron Sexton’s bill that would send juveniles who would commit serious crimes directly to adult criminal court Akbari believes "blended sentencing" is one way, to ensure the juvenile justice system is restoring and not simply punishing.
"So there really is a clash of ideas," Akbari said. "But I will tell you that we have the science behind us. This is a bipartisan effort.” “Ultimately, they’re not going to be out reoffending, so in my mind, it will reduce the caseload in juvenile court and definitely reduce the caseload in the adult criminal system.”
This bill is up for review during the Criminal Justice Subcommittee hearings on March 28.