For the past few months, Memphis police commanders have been encouraging officers to issue summonses to juveniles accused of minor offenses rather than locking them up, says the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The combined effort by Mayor A.C. Wharton, the juvenile court, law enforcement and the religious community is intended to limit exposure to jail culture for some juveniles. The short-term goal is to cut down on overcrowding at Juvenile Court and overtime costs for police.
Since March, the court has seen a dramatic drop in the number of juveniles detained. “We know the formal introduction of a juvenile into juvenile court often makes the situation worse,” said Wharton. Rather than discouraging criminal behavior, “the ride into juvenile court often emboldens the child,” he said, making him or her a hero of sorts on the street. In the past, about 60 percent of juvenile suspects were taken to temporary detention and about 40 percent were issued summonses. In March, however, 53 percent of juvenile suspects handled by Memphis police were issued a summons and 47 percent were transported. In June, 58.3 percent were issued a summons, and 41.7 percent were transported. The program, which extends the police officer’s discretion on whether to physically arrest a juvenile applies only to specific crimes: disorderly conduct, simple assault, theft under $500, gambling, criminal trespass, simple marijuana possession, and vandalism under $500.