Incarcerating Kids On 2023 TN Legislative Agenda

Image Credit: TN Dept of Children’s Services Office of Juvenile Justice

The Tennessee Conservative [By Paula Gomes] –

Proposed legislation for the 2023 legislative session seeks to protect children who are interrogated for crimes and those held in confinement for an indefinite term, but those committing serious offenses are even more likely to face transfer to an adult penitentiary. 

Although the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) chose to use a photo of smiling, multicultural faces on their Juvenile Justice website, reports show that incarcerated juveniles are overwhelmingly young, black men from Shelby County. These reports show that the crime de jour most often placing these young men behind bars is aggravated robbery. The state has made little improvement in this area. 

Juvenile Justice is a division of DCS, but not all children who find themselves locked up in county juvenile detention centers come to the attention of the agency. Each county has a judge with juvenile jurisdiction who can incarcerate children within their own county lockup facility. And the juvenile lock-up system in Tennessee has not been without controversy.  

In 2019, Maury County juvenile detention center was exposed for locking children up in solitary confinement, and Davidson County juvenile detention lost four juveniles to an escape through an open elevator.  Then in 2021, Rutherford County Juvenile Court Judge Donna Davenport was exposed for locking children up as young as nine years old, sometimes for non-existent crimes. 

This year’s slate of proposed legislation seeks to address some of the issues of incarceration. But it is clear the focus is on managing the incorrigibles, rather than addressing any systemic issues that result in criminal conduct. Of note, Tennessee is home to the largest, private prison corporation, CoreCivic, which operates the six main prison facilities in the state. Tennessee also ranks eleventh in the nation for the ratio of the population that is incarcerated.

A brief summary of some of the bills:

HB 0720/SB 0509 Representative Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna-District 49) and Senator London Lamar (D-Memphis-District 33) – Requires the presence of an attorney or parent and audio/visual recording when a child is interrogated; and informing the child of his constitutional rights.  

HB 1098/SB 0957 Representative Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis-District 98) and Senator London Lamar (D-Memphis-District 33) – Addresses juvenile offenders who are “committed to the department” for an indefinite period and seeks to provide them with evidence-based treatment and services.

HB 0619/SB 0447 Representative Ron Travis (R-Dayton-District 31) and Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun-District 1) – Requires DCS to notify the juvenile court when the child is to be released, giving the juvenile court judge the ability to reject the decision of DCS.  

HB 0398/SB 0183 Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson-District 78) and Senator Page Walley (R-Savannah-District 26) – Children committing animal abuse will be required to undergo mental health evaluation and treatment. 

HB 0430/SB 0624 Representative Mark White (R-Memphis-District 83) and Senator Brent Taylor R-Memphis-District31) – Children age 16 or 17 committing A, B, or C felonies would be given a “blended” sentence which would include adult probation, but would end before the child’s twenty-fifth birthday.  

HB 0672/SB 0372 Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville-District 13) and Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville-District 20) – Requires that any child in a “youth development center” be assessed for intellectual disability.  

HB 1348/SB 1390 Representative Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville-District 17) and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald-District 28) – This bill states that if a child is adjudicated for an offense that would be a misdemeanor and the child has previously been adjudicated for another offense, the officer is required to contact a parent instead of immediate incarceration.  

HB 1121/SB 0607 Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson-District 78) and Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson-District 27) – Creates a step-down program for children incarcerated in the John S. Wilder youth development center, to transition the youth out of custody and to reunify them with family. 

HB 1120/SB 0617 Representative John Gillespie (R-Memphis-District 97) and Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis-District 29) – Requires youth service officers to receive behavior management and conflict resolution training, requires making a chaplain available but not mandatory for incarcerated youth, and requires the separation of juvenile offenders younger than 16 from older juvenile offenders. 

HB 1106/SB 0611  Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson-District 78) and Senator Page Walley (R-Savannah-District 26) – Requires that any juvenile 16 years or older to be tried as an adult if they escape from a youth development center.  

HB 1104/SB 0608 Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson-District 78) and Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson-District 27) – Reduces the age from 18 years old to 17 years old for juvenile offenders to be transferred to the penitentiary if found incorrigible. 

About the Author: Paula Gomes is a Tennessee resident and reporter for The Tennessee Conservative. You can reach Paula at

3 thoughts on “Incarcerating Kids On 2023 TN Legislative Agenda

  • February 7, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    As has been said many times, follow the money. A private prisons system has to have prisoners to make money, they are not non-profit. To that end, judges, police officers, and anyone else in the decision making process is suspect for being unduly influenced by kickbacks, pressure from above and several other things. I was against privatizing the penal system when it was started and I’m more against it now. The system is not about rehabilitation, it’s about money, period.

    • February 7, 2023 at 6:27 pm

      Agreed. We need to take care if our children instead of making them cash cows. They should always have excess ti the clergy of their choice…

  • February 7, 2023 at 9:29 pm

    No one seems to be looking at root cause.
    Little darlings never had the devil whipped out of them.


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