(Memphis) Shelby County Juvenile Courts are being forced to make changes after the Justice Department found they discriminate against African-American children.
Many children and teens are in custody right now after being convicted without being read their rights or notified of charges in a timely manner.
Phyllis Wilson’s son Eric is being held seven hours away after being convicted of Aggravated Armed Robbery when he was 16.
She says Eric was riding in a car with someone who jumped out and stole a cell phone at gun point, but Eric says he knew nothing about it, “You should have seen the way those men were hollering at them and spitting in their face while they talk saying ‘well I’m going to take you to 201 Poplar and let the men rape you. And they were afraid. They were scared.”
Though she can’t prove it, Wilson believes her son was treated brutally because he’s African American.
This comes after an investigation by the justice department where they found race was a deciding factor over age and criminal background when it comes to punishment.
“For them to take him away for three years and he’s never been in trouble and they have kids going in and out of the system.”
Brenda Matthews’ son Cameron was driving that car.
He also says he didn’t know the passenger was going to rob someone and made him get out once he found out what happened.
He was also charged the Armed Robbery, “Even one day he told me I don’t even want that woman to come back and talk to me it’s like she’s trying to pressure me into saying I had something to do with it. She keeps telling me ‘You know you had something to do with it.”
Matthews agrees with the Justice Department’s finding that juveniles were not protected from incriminating themselves, “He was always asking me mama who are these people asking me questions. Every day there is someone who comes and asks me what happened, and I feel very uncomfortable talking to them.”
Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Persons says there is no discrimination in his court, “It is a subjective finding, but I feel so strongly about discrimination and against discrimination I do not believe that is involved in our decision-making process.”
Cameron and Eric were also held over the Thanksgiving holiday without a probable cause hearing which was another violation found by the justice department.
Judge Persons says they’ve already fixed several problems found by the justice department by taking restraint chairs out of the detainment area and increasing times spent between suspects and their attorneys.