MEMPHIS, Tenn. — There's a renewed push to give another option of sentencing Shelby County juveniles convicted of serious crimes: not too light, not too severe but somewhere in between.
It's called blended sentencing, in place in more than 15 states. Supporters say is offers a better chance of rehabilitation and the topic is timely after the recent serious charges, including murder, of those between 15 and 17.
State representative G.A. Hardaway said Thursday afternoon that he'll introduce legislation this fall that would make Shelby County a pilot program for blended sentencing. It's a proposal both a former and the soon-to-be Shelby County District Attorney support with open arms.
"There's a lot of concern about juvenile violence right now, it's going up," Former Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons said. "We are arguably in a crisis."
Sounding the alarm, Gibbons and others are also calling for a change in juvenile sentencing.
"We need a third option, a third alternative in Tennessee," Gibbons added.
Blended sentencing would offer that middle ground. Right now, Shelby County juveniles convicted of serious offenses are either detained until they are 19 or are transferred to adult court, where a murder conviction is a 50-year sentence with parole.
"The vast majority of juveniles who are charged with serious crimes are not going to be transferred to adult court, so we've got to do a better job of addressing those individuals," Gibbons said.
Steve Mulroy, who will be sworn in as Shelby County District Attorney in a few weeks, agreed blended sentencing is a sensible compromise.
He highlighted the 15-year-olds charged in last month's Whitehaven killing of Rev. Autura Eason-Williams or the 16 and 17-year-olds charged earlier this week with stealing a car in Raleigh.
"I think some of these more recent cases illustrate the dilemma we are in," Mulroy said. "Give up on them forever and send them off to adult prison whey they are likely going to become hardened career criminals or potentially lose jurisdiction at 19."
Those with the interfaith group MICAH offered another approach to juvenile justice.
"The focus has to be that while we are addressing the violent crime, we are coming in and intervening with the next wave, the next generation, the next group, we are working with them in a proactive way," Janiece Lee said.
If the Tennessee General Assembly approves the blended sentencing pilot program, Shelby County juvenile sentencing options would likely be extended through age 21. Rep. Hardaway said that the age range could eventually be extended.