JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM BILL TAKES CREATIVE AND INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO ADDRESSING TRUANCY

NASHVILLE, (April 24, 2017)  — Legislation establishing a progressive truancy intervention program for students in K-12 schools is advancing in the General Assembly with passage by the Tennessee Senate last week.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), is part of a package of bills recommended by the state’s Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force.

Senate Bill 196 takes a creative and innovative approach to addressing truancy, shifting toward a therapeutic rather than a correctional approach as the most effective means to reduce the rate of delinquency and to provide positive outcomes for students.  Truancy is the most frequent reason given for schools referring juveniles to court.

“I am grateful to the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force for recommending the General Assembly take up and again consider this legislation from 2015,” said Sen. Overbey.  “This is one of the most important things we can do for students who take the privilege of an education for granted:  we can work with them and their families to keep them in school and out of juvenile court.”

Overbey passed the proposal in the Senate in 2015, but it stalled in the House of Representatives.  When the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force completed their work, members recommended that it be approved this year as part of their reform package.

Overbey passed the proposal in the Senate in 2015, but it stalled in the House of Representatives.  When the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force began their work, members recommended that it be approved this year as part of their reform package.

The goal of the program is to create mentorship-type relationship between a designated school representative and child and parent in an opportunity to focus on attendance prior to it becoming a juvenile court issue.  The legislation requires that the schools notify parents at the beginning of the school year in writing regarding their attendance policy. After three unexcused absences, the student and parent are pulled into a conference with a school representative to address the absences and to implement the first tier of the progressive truancy intervention.  An agreement is then signed by the student, parent and school representative, including the school’s attendance expectations for the child and penalties for additional absences.

Two additional tiers of interventions would be applied if the student accumulates additional unexcused absences in violation of the attendance contract.  At least one tier must include an individualized assessment regarding the reasons for the absence, and if necessary, referral to the child to counseling, community-based services or other services aimed at addressing the student’s attendance problems.

The bill is also designed to ensure that the intervention program is tracked to monitor its success.

“I believe this legislation will make a positive difference in the lives of many young people who otherwise would not receive early intervention in their truancy and end up in juvenile court,” Overbey added.

The proposal is pending action in the House of Representative’s Finance Committee.  The committee is expected to act on the bill during the next two weeks as the 2017 session comes to a close.

 

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