Civil Rights Issues Found In Shelby Co. Juvenile Justice System

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READ: DOJ Report of Findings

(Memphis) An investigation by the justice department found African American children do not receive equal treatment in the Shelby County Juvenile Court system.

“We found that African American children were treated differently and more harshly during key points in the juvenile court process,” said Assistant US Attorney Tom Perez.

The Justice Department crunched the numbers for a five-year period and found African American teens are one-third less likely to receive a warning in court, and twice as likely to be tried as an adult than children of other races.

Numbers show half the adult transfers in Tennessee come from Shelby county, and all but two of those were African American.

“We found that race was in and of itself a significant contributing factor even after accounting for legal variables like the nature of the charge, prior record and social variables such as the age gender and school attendance,” said Perez.

The audit also found Shelby County juveniles, of all races, are not given enough notice before their hearings.

This prevents them from having the proper time to prepare for court and is a violation of due process.

The audit also shows juveniles arrested without warrant were not given probable cause hearings in a timely manner because Shelby County doesn’t have court on weekends and holidays.

“What this meant, was a number of children experienced needlessly lengthy detentions, before a magistrate could make a magistrate could determine in a hearing if there was probable cause for their arrest,” said Perez.

The department also found children were in danger during their incarceration because Shelby County‘s use of pain compliance like restraint chairs and pressure point tactics.

The Justice Department says Shelby County’s Juvenile Courts have already started addressing some of these issues even before today’s announcement of the findings.

They also said Judge Curtis Person was very helpful during the investigation though Person said he disagrees that blacks are treated differently.

Right now the Justice Department and local officials are working on a plan to fix all the problems.