SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County’s District Attorney says the number of teens committing violent crimes is on the rise.
“How do we make sure our kids stay off the wrong path? And if they put one toe that wrong path how do we get them off their quickly to save their lives and the lives of others in the community,” said DA Amy Weirich.
She said last year teens committed 830 major violent crimes in Shelby County which includes aggravated robbery, rape, murder. Weirich said 90 teens were transferred to criminal court where they were tried as adults.
“We need that immediate, real-time intervention to find out what is going on? Are you acting out because something’s going on in your life? Are you acting out because you want to join a gang? Are you acting out for whatever reason, what is driving you to commit these serious violent crimes?” said Weirich.
For six months, there was some intervention through the Youth Assessment Center which was a county partnership with law enforcement, the courts and the UT Health Science Center. Instead of taking teens straight to the juvenile detention center, they could go to the Youth Assessment Center to get counseling and other social services.
The voluntary, referral program helped fewer than 100 families while it was operational.
But Dr. Altha Stewart said they had thousands of referrals for teens who needed other services or just one-time intervention.
“The focus has to be on the recognizing that many of these young people who are doing these acts and committing these crimes are in fact victims of trauma, our good partner Rev. Charlie Caswell reminds us all the time, it’s not 'what’s wrong with you, it’s what’s happened to you,” said Stewart, UTHSC Dean for Community Health Engagement.
DA Weirich said she appreciates the work accomplished at the Youth Assessment Center but she believes a new center should combine voluntary referrals and immediate transfers.
“The issue and one of the obstacles was the inability for law enforcement to transport a juvenile to that center in the moment. At 4 o’clock in the morning when you know when the juvenile has been picked up committing a felony, that’s when we need that immediate, real-time intervention,” said Weirich.
There are still resources available enough though the Youth Assessment Center isn’t in operational right now.
UT Health Science Center offers gang intervention, trauma informed programs, and mental health support.