Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam brought up his state’s juvenile justice initiatives during his 2018 State of the State Address, which he delivered Monday night. Gov. Haslam also used his address to announce the introduction of a bill to adopt the bipartisan recommendations of a recent task force responsible for taking stock of the state’s juvenile system. The proposed reforms in Tennessee follow a pattern of conservative states looking to overhaul their juvenile systems to improve rehabilitation results while using state resources more effectively.

The proposal includes:

  • Reserving out-of-home placement to juveniles who pose serious risks to society or who have committed violent crimes
  • Expand options for schools to deal with kids who have only violated minor technical violations. This frees up resources to deal with serious offenders
  • Assess the risks of each offender, giving them the care most likely to lead to rehabilitation

The Ad Hoc Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice estimates that these reforms can reduce the delinquent and unruly population 36 percent by 2024, as well as save $36 million in taxpayer dollars. Gov. Haslam announced his support for adopting the task force’s proposals this year:

Tonight, I am also introducing the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. We know that too many kids get lost in the juvenile justice system. With great leadership from the Senate and the House, a task force on juvenile justice studied our system and determined that reform is needed.

We can do better. We can be smarter. And tonight I am asking the General Assembly to adopt responsible reforms that will focus the most significant state intervention on the most serious offenses. We know from evidence that costly out-of-home placements, in many circumstances, are not good for children, communities or taxpayers. With a responsible investment now, we can positively impact the lives of children and their communities, and use our resources more effectively.

Taking low level juvenile offenders out of their homes is an extreme and costly measure. This is especially important in Tennessee, where 44 percent of juveniles placed in out-of-home detention committed non-violent misdemeanors, technical violations of probation, and unruly offenses, which are crimes that apply only to children. Research on the matter shows that juvenile incarceration can in fact increase the likelihood of long-term criminality in these kids. As it turns out, warehousing kids with violent criminals makes them better criminals.

Tennessee has an opportunity to help kids turn away from lives of crime. Governor Haslam should be applauded for the steps he’s taking to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and prevent future victims.