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Legislative Preview On Bettering State Juvenile Justice System

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

This information is provided by 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, MD, R Hohenwald, who represents, Giles, Lewis, Marshall and Maury counties.

We are preparing for a busy 2023 Legislative Session in Nashville where we will address a variety of important issues facing Tennesseans including improvements to Tennessee’s juvenile justice system.

Following allegations of abuse and insufficient resources and facilities at the Wilder Youth Development Center, Senate and House of Representative speakers formed the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Juvenile Justice to examine the specific challenges at the Wilder Youth Development Center and the broader juvenile justice system in Tennessee.

The committee met throughout the summer and fall in 2022, heard from state agencies and will recommend legislation to improve the Wilder Youth Development Center and address specific shortfalls at DCS.

Some legislation that will be proposed includes:

Wilder Youth Development Center Improvements

In the General Assembly we will consider improvements to the Wilder Youth Development Center including increasing pay and improving training for Youth Services Officers (YSO) and expanding hardware secure bed capacity to keep high needs youth and Wilder staff safe.

In January 2023, Ernst and Young is expected to release a real estate assessment of DCS facilities to recommend improvements at the Wilder Youth Development Center and other facilities owned by DCS.

Once recommendations are released, the Ad Hoc Committee will make its official legislative recommendations.

DCS Prevention Grants

With the number of juveniles in DCS custody steadily increasing, it is becoming more important to focus resources on preventing children from entering state custody.

We will look at various ways to improve prevention services, including funding additional evidence-based DCS prevention grants that can provide after school care, curfew checks, school attendance checks, and mental health care.

Tennessee has two prevention programs with over a 90% success rate. The programs serve 55 youth per year in East and West Tennessee.

Juvenile Step-Down Services

To incentivize good behavior among juveniles, we may look into working with DCS on compliance programming as a way for juveniles to step down from secure facilities into more freedom and a homelike setting.

24/7 Mental Health Services

We will consider providing 24/7 clinical mental health treatment services at DCS youth development centers.

Expansion of incorrigible designation

In the General Assembly, we will likely review legislation that lowers the age eligible for an incorrigible designation from 18 to 17 years old. This would allow superintendents at Wilder and other youth development centers to transfer extremely uncooperative and violent 17-year-olds to Department of Corrections facilities.

Data Sharing Among Juvenile Courts

My colleagues and I may consider legislation that would allow sharing of confidential juvenile records among state juvenile court judges, so judges can have a full picture of a juvenile’s record.

Each court has its own system making it challenging to gather data on juveniles such as which programs and services a juvenile has received, how many adjudications they have had, and what has been successful and unsuccessful.

Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee

Legislation to create a Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth will be considered by the General Assembly.

The Advisory Committee would regularly review juvenile justice cases and incidents and provide an annual report and recommendations to the General Assembly.

It would be modeled after the Second Look Commission which reviews severe child abuse cases.

Sen Hensley may be contacted at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, TN 37243, at 615-741-3100, toll free at 1 800 449 8366 extension 13100 or by fax at 615-253-0231.

His home address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, TN 38462; his home phone is 931 796 2018., Hohenwald, TN 38462; his home telephone is 931-796-2018, his cell phone is 931-212-8823, and Email: sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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