The U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division's recent investigation of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee is a "must read" for youth justice advocates, especially as it relates to racial and ethnic disparities and the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court.
The DOJ's extensive investigation, which began nearly three years ago, found a failure to provide adequate due process protections for children before transferring them to adult criminal court and racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children. The report shows that an African-American child is twice as likely as a white child to be recommended for transfer to adult court. Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, approximately one half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American.
“This report is a step toward our goal of improving the juvenile court, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system, and maintaining public safety,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at a press conference when the report was released. “Upholding the constitutional rights of children appearing before the court is necessary to achieve these ends. The department will work with Memphis leadership to create a comprehensive blueprint that will create sustainable reforms in the juvenile justice system.”