Juvenile Court reports improvement in equal treatment for black children

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Juvenile court officials presented at a Hickory Hill church Thursday night to justify their recent request to end federal oversight.

The Department of Justice has been monitoring the court since 2012 when they signed a memo of understanding to improve several issues including unequal treatment of black children in the system.

“Juvenile court is spending a lot of time trying to help those issues, whether it’s working with the police department to find other ways rather than locking children up because we all know that’s traumatic,” said Bridgette Bowman, coordinator of the court’s efforts to improve “disproportionate minority contact.”

Research specialist Aimee Burgdorf also discussed statistics related to the DMC that help the court monitor and improve. She referenced the relative rate index which compares the experiences of white children with black children who go through the juvenile court system at eight different points of contact.

“Secured detention went from 2.29 [minority children per white child] in 2015 to 1.88 in 2016, indicating less children of color are being held in secure detention,” Burgdorf said.

But she reported the same data also showed that for every white child who entered the system, nearly 4.5 black children do.

That’s part of why Shelby County Commission disagrees with court officials and asked the DOJ to continue to monitor.

“Although we’ve had the improvement, we want the improvement to stay and to continue. We feel oversight is the best way to ensure continued compliance and improvement,” Commissioner Van Turner said.

“It does have a negative effect on our community when we see the large numbers of our kids being affected by the crime- black on black crime,” said Pastor Thomas Murray, whose church Anointed Temple of Praise hosted the presentation.

Court officials said they welcomed offers of assistance from community organizations and activists.