Tennessee's juveniles in jail down 66 percent in 10 years

12:21 AM, Mar 5, 2013   |    comments
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Officials have taken a different approach to punishing kids who commit crimes. It shows in the numbers recently released by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

The Kids Count study found the number of young people in Tennessee detention centers has dropped 66 percent in 10 years. Tennessee saw the largest decrease in the number of youth detained of any other state, according to the report.

Knox County Juvenile Judge Tim Irwin says Knox County has traditionally had some of the lowest numbers of kids detained per capita for a while. But it's gotten even lower.

The key, he says, is teamwork.

"Everybody is doing their part right now and that's keeping kids out of detention and out of custody for delinquent reasons," Judge Irwin said.

Judge Irwin said they use detention as a last resort. They believe in rehabilitation, not punishment for children.

"It's always best to keep a child in the home. They get to go to the same school: continuity of education, continuity of care," he said.

The judge said with the help of law enforcement, the Department of Children's Services, and Knox County Schools taking on their discipline problems internal, their teamwork is paying off.

But most importantly, he says, is Helen Ross McNabb's home based probation program.

"It is a real intense form of probation, when you couple that with the policemen that knock on our most troubled kids' doors at night to make they are where they are supposed to be. I think that helps us to keep more kids out in the community than some places are able," he said.

The Richard Bean Juvenile Services Center Superintendent, Richard Bean, said they have 22 kids serving time right now. That's down from an average of 60 or more 10 years ago. He said now they only detain people who have committed serious crimes.

"When we moved in [13 years ago] they told us our numbers would go straight up but they went the other way. So that's a good thing," Bean said, "We're not babysitters like we used to be."

The judge also added that they are saving the state a good deal of money. It is very expensive to detain Tennessee's youth.

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