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Keeping juveniles out of jail becomes mainstay of new crime plan

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Pastor Kenneth Whalum is optimistic in his role as a community youth adviser.

"New Olivet has been involved in the community and civil rights stuff for a long, long time," he said.

But he acknowledged that improving youth crime statistics in Memphis was an uphill battle.

"If we don’t do something else, it's just a tempest in a teapot, too little, too late," he said.

He said he helped local officials come up with the third and most recent "Operation: Safe Community" plan; especially the part regarding reducing juvenile crime. Officials released the plan Monday.

The fifth goal of the plan includes "enhancing interventions for juveniles committing delinquent acts.

Part one of that goal involves establishing a "juvenile assessment center."

Officials said it would act as a diversion center before jail; officers would take kids who get arrested there to meet with counselors and experts.

We have disconnected youth," state Sen. Mark Norris said. "The children who should be in school and aren’t. We need to get them back in school.”

Officials said the center's specialists could work with young people to find personal or family problems which might've indirectly led them to break the law.

Whalum called it a positive step, but questioned if it was enough.

“It’s not going to really work until we address the problem of poor education. There's a problem with schools. Young people who are mal-educated and grow up to become criminals,” he said.

Norris said he was pushing to legislate this and other juvenile diversion programs statewide. Shelby County could be the first in the state with a pilot program, he said.