MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Newly elected Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy and Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon are looking for fresh approaches to dealing with the increase in youth crime in Memphis and Shelby County.
Thursday, they took part in a brainstorming session with national criminal reform organizations, county leaders, and other stakeholders to look at what programs are working in other parts of the country and what Shelby County can do better when it comes to handling young offenders.
“Judge Sugarmon and I both understand the seriousness of the youth crime problem,” said Mulroy. “What we’ve been doing over the last decade hasn’t been working.”
Mulroy said studies show that most young people who have contact with the criminal justice system are more likely to offend. He would like the state to provide more resources for mental health, job training, and vocational training.
He said there is also bipartisan support in the state for blended sentences that allow certain juvenile offenders to receive both juvenile and adult sentences and possibly avoid the adult sentence.
“We are not saying that there are not those youthful offenders who are repeat, violent offenders and who do, in fact, pose a public danger. We are not saying those offenders don’t need to be punished,” said Mulroy. “What we are saying is for a large portion of those, there are alternatives to incarceration.”
Judge Sugarmon said he has been pushing for blended sentences since 2014. He would also like to incorporate a reentry program for young people leaving the juvenile court system.
“So they can have job training, skills training, and further their education,” said Judge Sugarmon. “Not every child will necessarily go on to college, but everybody deserves to have a good working wage.”
District Attorney General Mulroy couldn’t say what percentage of crimes juveniles are responsible for, but this week, Shelby County Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons said that based on current trends, about 600 juveniles will be charged with serious violent offenses.
Data from the Memphis Police Department suggests youths are mainly engaging in property crimes. Wednesday, officers arrested a 15-year-old boy who stole a car from an apartment complex downtown and ran from police trying to arrest him.
The 15-year-old who was arrested a day after he ran from police is facing charges of theft of an automobile and evading arrest.
Mulroy said he wants to expand diversion programs for offenders like the 15-year-old who have not committed a violent crime.
“Our overall goal should be to minimize contact with the criminal justice system for as many people as possible,” said Mulroy.