Mayor speaks on racial disparities in Shelby County Juvenile Court

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It's a problem that plagues Shelby County Juvenile Court, the number of black youth in the system compared to any other race.

"Children are brought to us by the police department and the sheriff's department. We take what they bring us," says Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael.

That explanation doesn't sit well with federal monitors who have reviewed the court every six months since 2012.

This month they found race still matters in detention and black youth are more likely to be pushed to adult court.

"Eleven first-degree murders, 15 aggravated carjackings, 30 or 40 aggravated robberies and a huge number of sexual offenses. Which one of these children do you want me to send back into your neighborhood with those types of charges?" says Judge Michael. "We have a problem. But it's not just Juvenile Court. It's the City of Memphis and the County."

"That's a county effort. At city government we have nothing to do with that whatsoever," says Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

We asked Mayor Strickland about police picking up juveniles.

"The number of children brought in and what they have done is limited by Juvenile Court itself. The police department knows those regulations, and the number of children who are brought to Juvenile Court has drastically reduced over the last several years," says Mayor Strickland.

But court monitors say racial disparity continues. Still, Judge Michael and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell want the court removed from federal oversight.

"What I am suggesting is give the local government the opportunity to solve its local problems, with oversight being provided by the local officials, the County Commission," says Luttrell.

"We have done everything we can do under the agreement to resolve the issues that need to be resolved," says Michael.

Judge Michael says transports to Juvenile Court have gone down 78 percent and the number of kids in detention went from 6,200 in 2010 to 890 last year. Department of Justice officials will be back  visiting the court in October.

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