Group looks at minority youth arrests

Associated Press • Nov 19, 2012 at 10:16 AM

MEMPHIS -- A national organization is working with Memphis officials to discuss ways to reduce the high rate of minority youths arrested and jailed each year.

The Commercial Appeal reports (http://bit.ly/10eLPX3 ) that the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative kicked off in Shelby County last Tuesday. Fueled by several studies showing that even one day behind bars can have a lasting negative impact on youths, the initiative seeks to repair an apparent disconnect between police, school staff and court officials.

The initiative's management team conducted an assessment analyzing jail data, talking with those who work with troubled youth, including judges, jail and probation staff, law enforcement officials and schools staff.

The report states that some school principals strongly support school-based arrests and sending youth into the juvenile justice system, while others do not.

The report also said that some police personnel feel that minor misbehaviors should be dealt with in school, while other officers "see arrest without detention as a 'slap on the wrist' and they resent the time they take to transport the youth to intake (at the juvenile jail) only to have the youth released."

Mark Soler, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Children's Law and Policy and a consultant with the Casey foundation, said such attitudes can shift with strong leadership. He said both Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham support JDAI efforts.

"It's not a matter of 'Let all of the kids go,'" said Soler, who met with city and county officials last Tuesday. "It's a matter of 'Which ones can be supervised in the community or at home without jeopardizing the safety of the community?'"

Law enforcement has already helped reduce the number of youths arrested for minor offenses through a summons program, but more alternatives are being discussed.

The report says Armstrong is "interested in a pilot project that would allow officers to take youth directly to community-based programs instead of detention intake."

"He is also interested in diversion programs in which the charge is held in abeyance for a period of months and, if the youth does not get in trouble, then the charge is dismissed," the report said.

Soler said it's too early to discuss what kind of community-based programs will take shape here.


Information from: The Commercial Appeal, http://www.commercialappeal.com

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