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Incoming Shelby Co. juvenile court judge, transition team members lay out their goals to reform & improve juvenile justice

Tarik Sugarmon begins his eight-year term Thursday and promised reforms on how young people are tried and treated in the state's most populated county.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In just days, the Shelby County Juvenile Court will welcome its new top judge - Tarik Sugarmon - who campaigned and won on a pledge to overhaul how young people are rehabilitated and punished

Still, he inherits quite a heavy slate, with looming high-profile decisions of whether to transfer teens accused of murder into the adult system and a surge of cases involving gun charges.

Sugarmon also assigned a transition team with diverse backgrounds to bring forward new ideas to better rehabilitate young offenders and support victims.

That includes Cardell Orrin and Rosalyn Nichols.

"I'm ecstatic about it. It's a sea change in our community across the board," Orrin said.

"Clearly the direction that we've leaned into has not provided has not provided us with a safer community, so the opportunity of doing something different is really exciting," Nichols added.

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"I'm looking to make substantial changes in the programs and the opportunities for youth and their families to grow, rehabilitate and restore," Sugarmon said.

To do that, Sugarmon wants his court to be more proactive in the community and establish stronger partnerships with schools and parents.

"We will try, continue to try, to divert children out of the system, away from the system, we still want to work with families, if there is an issue with a child going down that path, committing delinquent acts, we want to work proactively with that family," Sugarmon added.

He also wants to provide more trade skills to those in juvenile detention, so they're more well-rounded and hirable once they're released by age 19. 

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"Things like coding, computer technicians, content development and there are other opportunities such as building trades, pipe fitting," Sugarmon said.

As for Nichols and Orrin, they and others will release a report in the coming weeks, outlining other new options to revolutionize juvenile justice and its affected parties.

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"We do not want to harden them but we want to restore while also holding them accountable so that victims feel like they've been heard," Nichols said.

Additionally, Sugarmon said he'd support state lawmakers approving blended sentencing, that would allow some juveniles to be detained longer but also not be transferred to the adult system.

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