A “Blended Sentencing” Bill Would Be a Game Changer for The Worst Juvenile Offenders

(PatriotWise.com) — A bill awaiting Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s signature would allow judges to sentence juveniles convicted of serious crimes to adult prisons for up to five years once their juvenile sentences have ended.

The controversial bill also requires judges to automatically transfer cases for teens ages 16 and 17 out of juvenile court to criminal court if they are charged with first-degree or second-degree murder or attempted murder.

Described as blended sentencing, the bill is part of the state’s effort to pass various legislation to address juvenile crime. The measures were revisited this year after last summer’s special session on public safety ended with only a few policy changes.

Proponents of SB 0624 argue that the bill would grant judges greater flexibility in supervising violent offenders after they reach the age of 19, when the jurisdiction of juvenile courts ends.

However, the last-minute revisions to the bill before the General Assembly adjourned have raised concerns on both sides of the aisle over the possible unintended consequences of the legislation.

Under the revised bill, juveniles who commit a second serious offense would be sentenced to incarceration in an adult prison until they turn 24, where they would be segregated from the adult population. It also grants juveniles the right to a jury trial when facing blended sentencing, a process that could take more than a year.

By law, hearings for juvenile defendants must take place within 30 days. A juvenile defendant awaiting a jury trial could require local authorities to detain the teen for more than a year. However, most counties in the state lack detention facilities for juveniles.

Currently, Tennessee has nearly 300 juveniles facing serious criminal charges that could potentially face blended sentencing or transfer to criminal court. At the same time, juvenile facilities in the state are already near capacity, with space for only 669 youths.

Juvenile court judges can choose to suspend the adult sentence of a teen once he reaches the age of 19. However, the bill would bind judges to strict criteria to do so.

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