MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - An investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into the Juvenile Court system for Memphis and Shelby County uncovered failure of due process, unsafe conditions, and discrimination.
In a report released April 26 by the U.S. Attorney's Office, investigators found "reasonable cause to believe that JCMSC fails to ensure due process for all children appearing for delinquency proceedings."
Among their findings, the report cited failure of adequate notice of charges to allow a reasonable time to prepare for hearings, failure to protect children from self-incrimination by not informing them of their rights, failure to hold probable cause hearings for children arrested without a warrant, and failure to provide adequate due process before transferring children to adult court.
The report also stated that in an analysis of cases ranging from trespassing misdemeanors to serious felony offenses, such as murder, "Black children are disproportionately represented in almost every phase of the Shelby County juvenile justice system, including pre-trial detention and transfers to criminal court."
"Moreover, the data shows that in certain phases of the County’s juvenile justice system, race is – in and of itself – a significant contributing factor, even after factoring in legal variables (such as the nature of the charge and prior record of delinquency) and social variables (such as age, gender, and school attendance)," the report stated.
Instances of discrimination were determined by statistical analysis, which showed that black children were one third less likely to receive a warning than white children. Also, data showed that a black child was more than twice as likely to be detained and twice as likely to be transferred to adult criminal court than a white child. The report added that these conclusions were made after accounting for other factors such as prior contacts with the court, the severity of the charges, gender, and education.
Also noted, the court failed to adequately protect youth in detention from harming themselves and used excessive restraints.
The investigation was opened in August 2009 by the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.
Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said the report is a step toward improving the juvenile court, buttressing public confidence in the juvenile justice system and assuring public safety.