Figures furnished by the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County contain both good and bad news on juvenile crime through the first half of this year.
“Delinquent” charges against juvenile offenders are the same as “criminal” charges against adult offenders (18 years old or older). Through the first half of this year (January – June), Juvenile Court data shows 3.096 delinquent charges in the juvenile court system, reflected in 2,580 separate complaints. (A complaint can cover more than one charge if multiple delinquent acts have allegedly been committed.)
The number of delinquent charges is 9.1 percent less than in the first half of 2018 and a significant 59.2 percent decrease from 2011. The number of complaints decreased by 9.5 percent compared to 2018. (A comparison with 2011 is not available.)
The reduction may not totally be attributable to a drop in the number of alleged delinquent acts but rather to programs designed to divert youthful offenders from the juvenile court system for lower-level offenses. For example, a number of schools in the Shelby County Schools system have implemented School House Adjustment Program Enterprise (S.H.A.P.E.). It is aimed at reducing the number of students sent through the juvenile court system for minor infractions.
At the same time, the number of delinquent charges for major violent offenses has increased significantly. During the first half of this year, Juvenile Court figures reflect 463 such charges compared to 282 during the first half of last year. This dramatic 64.2 percent increase over last year (and a 71.5 percent increase over 2011) is due primarily to sharp increases in the number of charges for aggravated assault and aggravated robbery. This is the third year in a row to show an increase in violent offense charges against juveniles.
District Attorney Amy Weirich stated, “More violent crime by juveniles is a disturbing trend. The victims of these crimes don’t suffer any less simply because the person who pointed a gun at them is 16 years old. We have to commit as a community to reducing these numbers.”
Of the 2,580 delinquent complaints filed during the first half of this year, almost half (47.1 percent) involve repeat offenders. The Crime Commission spearheaded development of the current Safe Community plan and is in the forefront of advocating its implementation. Part of the plan calls for a youth assessment center through which first-time youthful offenders alleged to have committed lower-level, non-violent offenses would be diverted from the juvenile court system and referred to a stand-alone center. The center would be designed to assess issues facing those youth and their families and come up with ways to address them, with the goal of reducing the likelihood of another offense.