Plans for launching the Shelby County Youth Assessment Center (YAC) on a pilot basis are moving forward. The Shelby County Board of Commissioners has approved a $500,000 contract with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) to begin operation of the center on a pilot basis for one year, with the option to renew the agreement for an additional three years. The program will be run through UTHSC’s Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth headed by Dr. Altha Stewart.
Establishment of the YAC is a key objective of the Operation: Safe Community crime reduction plan. Almost half of youth coming through the Juvenile Court system are repeat offenders. The center is designed to more effectively address the needs and challenges of youthful offenders on the front end and reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses.
Youth may voluntarily come for assessment upon referral by family or school, or through law enforcement escort, with no contact with the formal juvenile justice system. The center’s primary goals will include (1) diverting youth from the juvenile justice system for lower level offenses, consistent with public safety; (2) increasing effectiveness in the use of limited community resources; and (3) serving as a resource to facilitate better relationships among youth, families, the community, service agencies, and components of the justice system.
The program will be evaluated during the pilot phase to help determine whether it should be expanded to cover all youth in Shelby County who meet certain criteria.
Initially proposed by former County Mayor Mark Luttrell, the agreement between Shelby County and UTHSC is supported strongly by new County Mayor Lee Harris.