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Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan


In 2006, Memphis had the second highest violent crime rate in the country. A public sector partnership led by then Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, District Attorney Bill Gibbons, Sheriff Mark Luttrell, Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, and U.S. Attorney David Kustoff came together with top business leaders to address this urgent issue by creating Operation: Safe Community, a 15-point research-based crime reduction plan. Led by Bill Gibbons, now in his current role of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security, a powerful collaborative of 50+ leaders has spearheaded its implementation. Largely due to Memphis’ data-driven policing initiative called Blue CRUSH™, a key Operation: Safe Community strategy, serious crime in Memphis has since declined by more than 26.6%.  January 2011 saw Memphis’ lowest murder rate in 30 years.

Despite our success, youth violence is on the rise.  In 2009, more than 54% (1,462) of those arrested for committing a violent crime were 24 years of age or younger – with offenders as young as nine years old. Nearly 160,000 Memphis children living in poverty face multiple risk factors for youth violence, with those at highest risk including children of teen parents, youth 16-19 not in school or working, and youth with no consistently working adult in the home.


Recognizing this challenge, Operation: Safe Community leadership developed The Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan.  The plan aims to reduce youth violence by building youth resiliency and supportive neighborhoods so our young people succeed in spite of pervasive local risk factors.  Created with input from over 800 stakeholders – youth, parents, professionals, and community and faith leaders – our plan deploys a robust blend of sanctions and support, including evidence-based services pre-natal through career age, proven to support positive youth development.

Vision: Memphis will be a city where all children and youth, valued and nurtured by strong families and communities, are fully prepared for lifelong success,

Five-Year Target Outcome: 25% reduction in violence committed by youth under age 24, as measured by reductions in: violent offenses by people under age 24, delinquency offenses, status offenses, school disciplinary incidents, truancy, and youth gang crime.

Prevention Goal: Children, youth, and families at risk for youth violence access high quality resources that effectively protect them from risks by promoting positive child, youth, and family development.

Prevention Strategies

  1. Increase participation by at-risk families in high quality prenatal/early childhood programs with a focus on family strengthening and improved parenting skills.
  2. Build on neighborhood networks, and strengthen the ability of community and faith-based organizations to deliver high-quality programs and resources for youth (e.g., after-school, mentoring, tutoring, college preparation, internship, teen pregnancy reduction, parenting skills, and similar resources).
  3. Strengthen and work through existing neighborhood networks to improve local environments for high-risk youth (e.g. establish safe places and passages, address problem properties, increase social efficacy).

Intervention Goal: Youth who demonstrate behavior problems access effective resources to help them develop positive behaviors and build resiliency to risks for youth violence.

Intervention Strategies

  1. Expand case management and deployment of multi-agency intervention teams to support youth at highest risk for committing violence.
  2. Dramatically improve coordination among agencies serving these youth, especially with Memphis City Schools (MCS), by establishing a shared electronic client management system and creating incentives for agencies and providers to participate.
  3. Expand “graduated sanctions” for youth (graduated severity of penalties combined with rehabilitation).

Enforcement Goal: Youth crime is deterred and safe environments foster healthy youth and families.

Enforcement Strategies

  1. Maintain data-driven policing through Blue C.R.U.S.H.™ Initiative and Shelby County Data Smart Policing.
  2. Equip all branches of local law enforcement (police, prosecutors, public defenders, juvenile court, and judges) to facilitate appropriate referrals to prevention and intervention programs.
  3. Change state law to require suspended students to attend alternative schools.
  4. Increase use of and explore strengthening nuisance statute to allow seizure of property affected by illegal gang activity.
  5. Reestablish local rehabilitation-focused residential facility for chronic and/or violent juvenile offenders serving their sentences in the juvenile justice system.
  6. Examine a change in state law to allow eligible serious juvenile offenders to serve sentences in secure rehabilitation-focused facilities after age 19 without being transferred to the adult system.
  7. Enhance rehabilitation programs in the Shelby County Correctional Center and Shelby County Jail for youth under age 24.

Reentry Goal: Youth offenders reentering the community access effective resources to support them in becoming successful members of society.

Reentry Strategies

  1. Increase education, employment, and career development opportunities for reentering youth.
  2. Enhance capacity and services at Memphis City Schools transitional and preparatory schools serving reentering youth.
  3. Provide intensive case management to help youth successfully return to the community.
  4. Identify and expand neighborhood-based networks of programs and providers (e.g. academic enrichment, job readiness, recreation, mental health counseling) willing and trained to serve reentering youth.

Implementation Approach

The Memphis Youth Violence Prevention Plan is the foundation of Operation: Safe Community Phase 2 – 2012-2017. The plan will be supported by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission’s (MSCC) 50-member Board of Directors, implementation management teams accountable to this board, and a Youth Violence Prevention Director.  In its first phase, implementation will focus on Memphis’ northwest quadrant. With 50,000 children and youth living in poverty, this area has the city’s highest concentration of gang members, youth violence, single-family homes, and teen pregnancy.  A coordinated place-based approach will build on current gang prevention and smart policing initiatives to align schools and community- and faith-based providers into a full continuum of evidence-based services prenatal through career.  Implementation will be supported through existing data-sharing agreements among law enforcement, schools, and service providers.