Shelby Co. Juvenile Court judge highlights changes at State of the Court Address

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Shelby County's Juvenile Court has seen its fair share of issues, and Judge Dan Michael admits there's still work to be done, but at Friday morning's annual State of the Court Address, he insisted the department is making positive changes.

It's been nearly five years since the Department of Justice released its findings of an investigation into the Shelby County Juvenile Court, alleging discrimination against black children, failure to provide due process to kids appearing for proceedings and unsafe conditions of confinement.

But Judge Michael said the department has worked hard to right those wrongs.

"We have made significant progress in every single one of those areas," he said. "We are in substantial compliance in almost all of them."

However, Judge Michael admitted he is frustrated by the equal protection requirements implemented as part of the department's agreement with the DOJ.

"If you go into my detention center today, chances are good those children don't look like me. They're all black," he said. "And I don't know how to stop that from happening."

Friday, Judge Michael highlighted some of those positive changes, like the department's new art program, more electronic monitors to keep non-violent offenders out of detention and a cease-fire program, which helps get kids with misdemeanor weapons charges out of the system.

He's also working to open a juvenile assessment center to send troubled kids to instead of court.

"Because if they come to court, they're going to have a record of some kind," Michael said. "It prevents that completely, and all those kids that don't need a record, won't get one."

When it comes to keeping kids out of trouble, he points the finger at the parents.

"It's on the parent, it's on the family," Michael said. "We as leaders have to figure out how to help those families do better."

He said there is a committee working to create a plan for the juvenile assessment center, which he expects to present to the county by early summer.