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STATISTICAL NIGHTMARE: Mulroy presents juvenile crime data to public safety committee

With data in hand, Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy provided an update on juvenile crime to the Memphis City Council Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 19.

Last year, 6,178 minors faced charges in Shelby County Juvenile Court. Of those, 23% were vehicle-related.  

“We did see an increase in juvenile crime in a couple of discrete categories related to vehicles –  breaking into cars and stealing cars,” said Mulroy. “There are a higher number of charges when it comes to auto theft and auto burglary,” said Mulroy.

Budding offenders can learn their craft through social media. Methods include popping steering columns, using a USB cord, or a key fob. The most targeted models are Kia, Nissan, Dodge and Infiniti.

Many of the teens have been in the juvenile court system since early childhood – the majority of the court’s work is child-related. In many cases, family caregiving was in short supply, along with resources. 

“If you come into our system at one-year old or 10-months old with a child welfare-related issue, if we do not get the proper interventions in place, we will likely see you at 12, or 14, or 16 in our delinquency caseload,” said Stephanie Hill, SCJC Chief Administrative Officer.

To curb recidivism – or graduating to violent crimes, like carjackings – the court created a CARS unit. Those with repeated auto-related charges are given priority, starting with a speedy disposition hearing. From there, a “whole series of rehabilitative interventions” are enforced. 

These include electronic monitoring, Youth Service Bureau supervision, status updates every 30 days for four months, community service, mandatory school attendance and no contact with victims, for example. 

“The idea is to move and get that done quickly. That’s been up and running for a number of months now. We’re hoping that it will help prevent a lot of these under-18 defendants from gravitating towards violent crime,” said Mulroy.

“That doesn’t mean that there are never occasions where it’s appropriate to have adult transfers…but it should be done as a last resort, not as a first instinct,” he said.

There were 84 transfer requests made in 2023. The threat of transfer also aids the D.A.’s office in settling cases.

Although rehabilitation services are available, the option lapses at age 19. If an older teen enters the system, that leaves little time. As a result, many states have adopted a “middle ground” approach, called “blended sentencing” It allows teens to remain in the juvenile system until they are 24. 

“That could be an extra period of incarceration, or that could be an extra period of intensive probation with supervision. It gives you that middle ground option at the discretion of the court,” said Mulroy.

A bill pending in the state legislature would allow district attorneys the discretion to file for the option. Juvenile courts would make the final decision. In addition to bi-partisan support, it has the backing of the Shelby County Crime Commission and Mulroy’s office. The proposal has passed in the Senate. “Behind the budget,” it’s chances of passing this year are slim.

A competing House version makes blended sentencing mandatory, regardless of the defendant’s criminal history. It provides no discretion to a judge or D.A.

“We obviously don’t favor that version,” said Mulroy.

As the legislation idles in Nashville, another option may be closer to home. When prompted, Mulroy requested funding for an additional Pure Academy – four to be exact. The nonprofit private school is located at Armey Road in Memphis.

“They’re doing a lot of interventions in what happens in Shelby County; directed at Shelby County and maybe overriding local control in many areas. But if we could just get some funding for a couple more Pure Academies, I think that alone would be extremely useful.”

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