Shelby County DA introduces community-based criminal justice reform program

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Lowering crime and reducing the likelihood someone becomes a repeat offender is the goal of the district attorney’s new community justice program.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich said the community needs a bigger seat at the table in the justice system.

“In order for the community to improve, in order for the community to move forward, it’s going to take the community being a part of that work,” Weirich said.

The new community justice program in Shelby County, which is made up of a panel of volunteers, will present an alternative to traditional prosecution.

“What we hope to do through this program is to take low-level offenders between the ages of 18 and 26 and let the community decide what their sentence should be,” Weirich said.

The victim and defendant must agree to participate in the program.

The panel won’t decide innocence or guilt but instead work towards the why and how to prevent it from happening again.

“There’s power in relationships,” said Pastor Deandre Brown with Lifeline to Success. “I believe programs like this give us the opportunity to develop lasting relationships because you need relationships in order to ask a person to change the way that they behave.”

It also keeps low-level offenders from dealing with certain aspects of the legal system.

“What’s different with this program is instead of it being a probationary sentence and terms of probation that a prosecutor designs, the community is going to say, here’s what we think this offender needs to do to make the community whole because of the crime they committed,” Weirich said.

Most importantly, if the terms laid out are successfully completed, the charges are dropped and expunged.

“If they’re branded a felon at 18, they’ll be a felon until they die, and that felony tag excludes them from so many opportunities,” Brown said. “I just believe it’s unfair in some cases because in many cases our young people never really had a shot.”

Weirich said she hopes to have the program up-and-running in September. She would like at least nine panel members to represent the police precincts.

They’ve already received seven applications in less than 24 hours.

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