Chris Wallace, 24, is the recipient of some special attention in large part because he landed on the radar of the Old Allen Community Prosecution Unit (CPU), a program initiated by Dist. Atty. Gen. Amy Weirich which emphasizes crime prevention and intervention in the Frayser-Raleigh-Millington area of North Shelby County.
Carrie Shelton Bush is the CPU chief prosecutor assigned to the Memphis Police Department’s Old Allen Station Precinct. She was asked to intervene by neighborhood organizer Debra Lovelace and Pastor Charlie Caswell.
“There is no doubt that because of Carrie’s and Debra’s commitment to see that this young man succeeds, he is spending his first night in a comfortable bed at Job Corps with dreams of becoming a carpenter closer than ever,” said Mr. Caswell, associate pastor of The House Church Memphis on Austin Peay. “Carrie, we want you to know that you helped save this young man’s life by helping to make this happen.”
The problem began in April 2016 when Chris was arrested on a burglary charge after breaking into a church in Frayser. The pastor of the church wanted rehabilitation, not revenge. So he pled guilty, was placed on diversion and was placed in Job Corps, the federal program that offers free education and vocational training for young men and women between ages 16 and 24.
Mr. Caswell and Ms. Lovelace stepped in to help make that happen, but they discovered that Chris could not be accepted by Job Corps while he still had a pending court date for his burglary. So Prosecutor Bush petitioned Criminal Court Judge Carolyn Wade Blackett to modify his court papers, extend his diversion by two years and suspend the case until Chris has completed Job Corps.
Said Debra Lovelace, president of the Denver Park Neighborhood Association: “He is a good young man who has never had a chance at life and no one to really care. He is not lazy and doesn’t mind working or jumping in to help.
Team Wallace – which also includes courtroom prosecutor Sarah Poe and Asst. Public Defender John Zastrow – had an April 21 deadline to beat, that being his 25th birthday when he would no longer be eligible to apply for Job Corps.
Upon completion of his diversion – a special form of probation – the felony burglary case will be dismissed and erased from his record. By then, his backers hope his career as a carpenter will have begun.
“The judge was willing to do whatever steps necessary to allow him to get a job and keep his diversion,” said Prosecutor Bush, who noted the team effort involved. “It took several tries, but I guess we got it right finally.”
For Pastor Caldwell, the prosecutor’s willingness to help a young man in trouble get out of trouble showed that the CPU program is “a great model for communities.”
Gen. Weirich told Pastor Caswell: “One of the reasons we selected Old Allen was the strong community voice already there. Thank you for being a part of that voice.”
The community prosecution program places prosecutors out in the community where they can build relationships with law enforcement, neighborhood watch groups, schools, businesses and other community-based organizations.
Those relationships also often involve offenders themselves who may receive help in clearing up past problems, or who may be diverted from the criminal justice system altogether.
In one case last fall, a nonviolent juvenile troublemaker was interviewed, counseled and eventually placed in a special weekend college program to develop his newly discovered talent for art. Dozens of other troubled youngsters have avoided Juvenile Court because of the special attention they have received through the CPU model.
All other cases from the Old Allen CPU area are handled by the same prosecutors and the same designated judges at 201 Poplar so they develop specialized knowledge of the problems and offenders from the area.
The DA’s Office also has a community prosecutor at the Tillman Station police precinct.