MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Recent escapes from the Wilder Youth Development Center in West Tennessee have led to a new bill being introduced in the general assembly.
The Wilder Youth Development Center in West Tennessee is a juvenile justice facility for boys and young men in Fayette County. But it also has a long history of teens escaping from the facility.
“That facility was never designed to house the type of offenders that are being housed there. When that place was built, it was made to handle dependent and neglected children,” said Fayette County Deputy Chief Ray Garcia.
But a bill in the Tennessee Senate aims to crackdown on juvenile offenders who escape from Tennessee development centers.
Senate Bill 611 would allow a juvenile court to transfer a teen 16 years old or older to criminal court to be tried as an adult for committing the offense of escape from a youth development center licensed by the state.
Some argue it’s part of a bigger problem.
“Yes, you see it everyday. You see 13-, 14-, 15-, 17-year olds increasing their criminal activity in Shelby County,” said Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
Some Republican lawmakers are not only pushing for juvenile escapees to be tried as an adults, but they’re also calling for tough new laws for young offenders in a proposed Juvenile Justice bill.
“We think with more crimes that are more serious, this bill would change the venue to criminal court instead of Juvenile Court and in the Criminal Court judge would make the decision if they should be tried as a juvenile or tried as an adult. We think when you have a more serious crime, you elevate yourself to a different court,” Sexton said.
Democrats from Memphis argue we don’t need harsher penalties for young offenders. They say we need better rehabilitation.
“I know there were several high profile incidents in Memphis this summer and what I’ve shared with leadership when I’ve spoken to them is these are all people who were juvenile offenders that were not properly rehabilitated and ended up become adult offenders,” said Senator Raumesh Akbari.
The Shelby County Democratic delegation is said to be looking at better ways to rehabilitate children. They’re considering blended sentences and looking at a pilot program that would allow young offenders to stay in the county juvenile court system until they’re 24 years old.