Pew Research Reveals Disparities in TN Juvenile Justice

The Blue Ribbon Juvenile Justice Task Force held its second meeting to hear full findings of Pew Charitable Trusts assessment of the state's juvenile justice system.


  1. There were a number of critical issues revealed in the 2 hour presentation by Pew, but the biggest takeaway was that judicial discretion, probation length and transfers into the adult system all vary wildly across the state.
  2. The Pew Researchers started their presentation with an important statistic about juvenile crime in Tennessee.
  3. Shelby and Hamilton Counties still have the highest rates of detention for petitions in 2016 with 46% of all petitions in Shelby County resulting in detainment.
  4. The most common delinquency petitions in Tennessee are for misdemeanor offenses.
  5. Pew conducted a survey of Tennessee judges and found that many are frustrated by the lack of alternatives they have to detention.

  6. Locally, fewer kids are being detained in Shelby County since 2012. However, when compared with other large counties in Tennessee, Shelby County's length of detention has been climbing since 2012. A steep increase starts in 2014 and has plateaued since then.
  7. Another striking statistic out of Shelby County -- the number of children transferred to the adult system as compared with other counties in Tennessee.
  8. This statistic is particularly troubling when considering data about race -- the Pew assessment shows that negative outcomes for black youth in the Tennessee juvenile justice system are disproportionate and grow worse as kids move deeper into the system. 74% of all transfers in 2016 were black children. The researchers noted that the disparity remained even when removing the four largest Tennessee counties from the data set (the graphic below includes the four largest counties).