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City of Knoxville working to reduce teen crime

TBI said in 2021, around 15,000 teens were arrested across the state — accounting for around 3% of all arrests.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shows crimes committed by teens could be up across the state, according to its 2021 Crime in Tennessee report.

The TBI said in 2020, around 13,000 teens were arrested. In 2021, that number jumped to around 15,000 arrests — making them responsible for around 3% of all arrests in the state.

According to the TBI, the number of juveniles arrested increased from 13,118 in 2020 to 15,056 in 2021.

Knoxville leaders said they have seen a significant rise in teen crime. According to the Knoxville Police Department, 117 teens were arrested in 2020. In 2022, that number increased to 316 arrests — making the jump a 51.9% increase. Now, Knoxville leaders are trying to keep the number from rising.

The City of Knoxville said its top priority is public safety and they said youth violence, in all forms, has a devastating effect on children, families and communities.

To curb teen violence, the city said it would give funding to non-profit and community-based organizations to provide services focused on building awareness, education and prevention.

The funding was awarded in March for programming carried out during National Youth Violence Prevention Week, between April 24 and April 28. A list of organizations receiving funding through the program is available below.

  • Thrive: $2,300.00
  •  You In the Mirror: $3,000.00
  •  Two Bikes: $3,000.00
  •  The Bottom:  $3,000.00
  •  Drums Up Guns Down: $3,000.00
  •  Centro Hispano de East Tennessee:  $1,920.00
  •  Canvas Can Do Miracles:  $3,000.00
  •  My Daughter’s Journey:  $2,928.00
  •  Karate Five Association: $3,000.00
  •  The Edge Foundation: $3,000.00
  •  YWCA Knoxville and the TN Valley: $3,000.00

One inmate in the Tennessee Department of Corrections said youth violence started his track to incarceration. When Glenn Mantooth outgrew the juvenile justice system, he went to prison. He said childhood trauma was prevalent growing up.

"My dad got murdered," Mantooth said. "I got gang-affiliated when I was 14. If you don't stick up for yourself, they're just going to keep taking advantage and they're going to get what they can get."

Mantooth has lived behind bars most of his life. He said each time he is released, he gets arrested and back in. TDOC deemed his sentence ineligible for parole and requested his reincarceration.

"Robberies, stealing vehicles, assaults. You name it, I've done it," Mantooth said. 

He is serving out the rest of his ten-year sentence in Hardeman County Correctional Facility and is expected to be released in 2030. He's what some police officers call a "frequent flier." He said he experiences just as much violence, if not more, locked up.

"It's a very hard cycle to beat — violence is," Mantooth said. "I was in penitentiary, third day there, a dude got stabbed 27 times and I just had to step over him."

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have been exposed to or are victims of violence are more likely to become violent offenders. 

Mental health therapist Julius Jefferies use to work in a Tennessee prison – he said there is little access to rehabilitation behind bars.

"Being incarcerated in and of itself, unfortunately, is traumatizing by its nature," Jefferies said. "It simply breaks my heart as a mental health professional to see such a disparity and resources available to people within the prison system. If you look in the prison system, you will see a majority of them come from poverty neighborhoods, minorities — and, already, there are disparities in those populations."

Not everyone falls back into the cycle but Nathan Harvey beat the odds. He was released from prison in 2018 and never returned.

"This community is near and dear to my heart because I used to help destroy it," Harvey said. 

He said while he was in prison, he formed a relationship with God that helped him get back on the straight and narrow. Harvey now works for the Emerald Youth Foundation mentoring at-risk children.

"Please just listen. I don't want you to go through what I went through. It's hell on the other side," Harvey said. "Thinking back if I had had a place like Emerald Youth to come to and participate in all the youth activities that we have, I probably wouldn't have went the wrong way. I probably would've had somebody to talk to lead me in a right direction."

According to the city, awards range between $500 - $3,000 each year. It specifically supports programming, events, activities, training, campaigns, resource development and distribution, or other activities related to participation in and furtherance of the goals of Youth Violence Prevention Week and reducing youth violence.

Funded activities engage youth, adults or the community at large. To see the 2022 impact report, click here. 

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