Commission delays vote on initial funding for new detention center

By Published: January 14, 2019 7:52 PM CT

The Shelby County Commission delayed a vote Monday on allocating $1.3 million for a new Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center after several commissioners raised concerns they were moving too fast on the project.

Commissioners hope to address one of the concerns that led to the delay – a lack of consensus on juvenile justice reform among local agencies – by extending invitations to Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael and the county’s public defender’s office to appear at the next committee meeting Jan. 23.

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“If we all have the best interest of our youth at heart, then let’s sit down together and talk about it in committee,” said Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who made the request.

The commission's facilities, real property and capital improvements committee on Wednesday recommended allocating $1.3 million from the fiscal 2019 capital improvement budget for the new detention center.

The Juvenile Justice and Education Center, the proposed name for the facility, is one of County Mayor Lee Harris’ top priorities for 2019 as he believes it is a critical part of juvenile justice reform in the county.

The estimated $25 million JJEC would feature an outdoor greenspace, a gymnasium and additional classrooms and educational opportunities for juvenile detainees.

Commissioner Eddie Jones asked county public works director Tom Needham how a delay would affect the timeline for the new facility, and Needham said it would push back the start of construction by a few months.

“That’s the only problem you’ll have,” Needham said.

Mick Wright said the vote shouldn't be delayed because most commissioners agree a new detention center is needed now.

“The kids that are being detained are in some terrible conditions right now,” Wright said. “The longer we delay, the longer they stay in those substandard conditions.”  

The decision to delay a vote on initial funding for the detention center comes a couple months after the County Commission approved a contract for the Shelby County Youth Assessment Center, a pilot program the county hopes will divert youth with minor offenses from Juvenile Court.

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Commissioner Brandon Morrison said she believes funding a new center at the current cost is “fiscally responsible” because the current facility is more than 100 years old, but added she wants the Youth Assessment Center to take precedence over a new detention center when it comes to juvenile justice reform. 

“I believe the juvenile assessment center is going to be the primary piece to reducing recidivism and catching youth early in minor offenses, and changing the trajectory of their lives,” she said.

Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. said while he is in favor of a new facility, his concerns about the culture at Juvenile Court mean he cannot currently support the project.

“A building with no change in operation or approach equals the same old thing,” Ford said. “I know there are 13 people up here that hope the same old thing doesn’t transpire.”

The facilities, real property and capital improvements committee will again consider whether to recommend the funding Jan. 23.

<strong>Eddie Jones was among the commissioners who voted to delay a vote on initial funding for a new juvenile detention center after being told such a delay would only push back construction a few months.</strong> (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)

Eddie Jones was among the commissioners who voted to delay a vote on initial funding for a new juvenile detention center after being told such a delay would only push back construction a few months. (Houston Cofield/Daily Memphian file)


Tami Sawyer Shelby County Commission Mick Wright Edmund Ford Jr. Juvenile Court
Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf is the county government reporter for The Daily Memphian. Omer was previously a reporter at The Jackson Sun and is a University of Memphis graduate.

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