Shelby County jailers create program to help prevent youth crime

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Curbing youth crime is getting tougher and tougher.

Officials tells us offenders - those committing carjackings, robberies and home invasions, are getting younger and younger.

They say no one is immune to becoming a victim.

Almost daily we're telling you about a teen who was arrested, charged and booked into the system.

"They think they're earning respect by committing these crime. They think they're earning respect by carjacking, killing and robbing people,"

That's what an 18-year-old had to say from within the walls of 201 Poplar.

He's in a special group of offenders, ages 18 to 24.

We can't tell you his name, show you his face or why he's behind bars for privacy reasons. But, he's sharing his story.

He made mistakes at a young age and has been incarcerated since he was 16.

He says, sometimes it takes time to see the bigger picture.

"Probably, when I was 16 I had already been incarcerated, and I realized I wasn't going to get out anytime soon. I wasn't going to have a chance to get my driver's license, go to prom or see my mom for the next couple years."

The young offender is far from alone, saying so many kids who don't have the support they need get caught up in wanting to belong and be apart of something.

He says that's why so many join gangs.

Statistics from the Shelby County District Attorneys office show since January 1, 2017, there have been 59 homicide cases that are "gang-related" and six cases that are "gang motivated."

Gang related means the victim or suspect are gang members.

Gang motivated means the motive of  the murder was in some way linked to furthering gang activities or furthering someone's standing in a gang.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman says the makeup of traditional gangs is gone.

It's no longer about drugs or money anymore.

"The shootings are for less and less of a reason. More of it arises from social media and sort of personal rivalries. It's frustrating," Hagerman said.

So those working with the Shelby County law enforcement decided they had to try something.

Interim Chief Jailer Kirk Fields said they saw a rise in their youth population, so they created the youthful offenders pod where we spoke to two young me on Thursday.

"We came up with this program to give them training, to give them education and things of that nature so that we could reduce recidivism," Fields said.

The young men in the pod put on plays,exercise and learn productive life skills for when they hopefully get out of jail.

"We take these young men out. They speak to middle schools and high schools, trying to encourage other young people not to travel the path they've traveled," he said.

As part of the pod, the offenders are actually encouraged to speak to their friends who might be on the streets in north Memphis, south Memphis and all over town.

This 21-year-old grew up in north Memphis and communicates with his friends.

"I ask them if they're still involved in the streets. Some will be honest and tell me yeah. Some will be honest and tell me, 'Well, watching you go through what you went through, I decide there's more out there for me. So I took another route."

Fields says they've seen results in the program.

"Trust me, they are making a difference because we've gone to schools where we've had kids drop their gang affiliation based on conversations they've had with out youthful offenders," he said.

The offenders in the program are making their own goals too.

"I haven't been able to accomplish much materialistically, but I have grown intellectually. I've taught discipline. I've been taught my real potential," a program member said.

It's potential they hope others in the community can help teens realize before they land in jail.

"If we had more people just pulling people aside and talking to them, then they'll realize there's more out there and they'll strive for more," Fields said.