By V.S. Santoni
NASHVILLE, TN — The Urban League sponsored a town hall with Judge Sheila Calloway and juvenile court clerk Lonnell Matthews on May 15. They presented their new plan for a Nashville Youth Campus for Empowerment. Calloway said the previous facility was too small to house all the services they needed; furthermore, she said the area where they housed children resembled a prison. The new facility will be located off Brick Church Pike and is a massive 14-acre upgrade.
Funded entirely through Metro Davidson County, Calloway said the building will not only house court rooms dedicated to serving Nashville’s youth, but it will also include room for meetings with attorneys, private conversations, a mediation center, drop down spaces for community partners to come in and meet with the family and youth they serve, space for all of their major partners such as the public defender’s office, the DA’s office, child support services, and the Department of Children’s Services. It will also serve two new functions: a 24-hour assessment where youth who cannot be legally detained can be assessed before they are returned to the home, and a respite center where youth who do not feel safe at home can take shelter.
The facility will also offer a safe baby program, serving families with children aged zero to three, to fast-track stability for children by providing permanent placement, whether that be back at home or through adoption. There will also be a safe exchange program that will allow parents to transition their children into the hands of mediators, mitigating dispute and the resultant trauma. Additionally, the staff at the center will be trained to deal with LGTBQ youth, whose needs may differ from children who do not identify as LGBTQ.
Matthews and Calloway have been focused on shifting the paradigm away from punitive justice, where people are punished for their crimes, to rehabilitative justice, where different methods are used to staunch problem behavior by addressing its psychological, social, or economic roots. Calloway said the human brain doesn’t stop developing until around the age of 25. She also said the current system is not trauma informed and likely to cause more harm than good and that she thinks there’s a pipeline between the juvenile justice system and prison, and she and Lonnell are committed to giving Black and brown youth, who the penal system disproportionately impacts, a fighting chance. This new facility is a step in the right direction.