Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris Among Representatives Gathered at 50-State Forum to Improve Outcomes in Juvenile Justice System

AUSTIN, TX—November 9, 2015—On the heels of new data showing a reduction in the number of youth incarcerated in Tennessee, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) led a team of Tennessee officials to a summit in Austin, Texas sponsored by the Council of State Government’s (CSG) Justice Center and the MacArthur Foundation. The group was joined by leaders in other states on Monday and Tuesday to address the next big challenge they all share: reducing the likelihood youth will be rearrested and end up in the adult criminal justice system.

Other Tennesseans at the summit include Supreme Court Justice Holly Kirby, Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, and Deputy Commissioner of Juvenile Justice Debbie Mitchell.

Tennessee’s juvenile incarceration rate has decreased by 76.5% from 1997-2013, according to new numbers from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). Despite the reduction, there’s been less progress ensuring youth released from facilities or under community supervision succeed by staying crime free, achieving academically and getting jobs. At “Improving Outcomes for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System: A 50-State Forum,” a two-day event, states are given the opportunity to collaborate, learn from each others’ experiences and understand the latest research from national experts.

“If we can get to the root causes of juvenile justice, we can intervene before it’s too late,” said Senator Norris. “More needs to be done to impact the underlying causes of juvenile incarceration. We can improve plans to reduce recidivism in Tennessee utilizing evidenced-based practices to help keep these kids in school and address other factors that have taken them off track. We can address it now, or pay for it later when the price may be too high and it’s too late.”

As Chairman of the Council of State Governments from December 2013-2014, Norris oversaw the release of a first-of-its-kind study that drew an unprecedented dataset of 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years, showing youth incarcerated in state-run facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those that remain under supervision closer to home. That information will be used in helping formulate a plan of action to address youth incarceration.

During Norris’ tenure as CSG Chairman, he also secured a Justice Center grant for Tennessee from the organization that demonstrated the state is not in compliance with current law requiring evidenced-based data be used to track recidivism. Norris addressed findings from that study at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last month.

The recently released report of the Governor’s Recidivism and Sentencing Task Force did not address juvenile recidivism.

At the Austin forum, participants are encouraged to charge a group of state and local leaders with using checklists provided by the CSG Justice Center to assess whether current policies and practices are in line with the latest research.

The conference will also share data about how states across the country are tracking outcome data and using this data to guide policy and funding decisions. Norris and other
Tennessee team members will also have the chance to review practical, user-friendly summaries of what the research shows to be effective strategies to reduce recidivism and improve other youth outcomes.

“We hope that each team will leave this forum having established the ground work for a comprehensive plan that they continue to build on at home,” said Laurie Garduque, director of justice reform at the MacArthur Foundation. “We’ve had unmistakable success in improving juvenile justice systems across the United States. At the same time, we must set our sights even higher: Treating youth fairly, preventing re-offending, and improving the future outcomes of youth in contact with the system is the standard of performance for this field.”

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