DOJ Ends Six-Year Oversight of Memphis Juvenile Court

The Justice Department says the juvenile justice system has improved, but only one-fourth of unresolved items in the equal protection category were in “full compliance.” One official says oversight will continue at the local level. Another calls the Justice Department action an “underhanded move.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is ending its agreement to monitor the juvenile court and detention center in Memphis’ Shelby County. The decision sparked outrage among some Shelby County leaders, many of whom said they want oversight to continue, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The agreement was started in 2012 to address an investigation of the county’s juvenile justice system. The investigation found that Shelby County was deficient in about 120 areas, with systemic discrimination against African-American children, unsafe confinement conditions and failure to provide due process to youth appearing for proceedings.

A county website says that nearly half of the items under the equal protection category are in “partial compliance.” Only 25 percent, or eight items, were in “full compliance.” Commission Chairman Van Turner said, “For them to pull oversight at this juncture — it should trouble everyone in this county.” Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris said the end to oversight acknowledges the work done at juvenile court. On Friday, only 45 youth were detained — an historic low. “We’ll continue the oversight, it’ll just transition from federal oversight to local oversight,” Harris said. “We have to make sure progress continues.” Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said, “Shelby County made commendable efforts to improve its juvenile justice system. The Department is pleased to see Shelby County and its local elected officials embrace and show public commitment to continuing the reforms it has made.” Several Shelby County Commissioners were unhappy about a lack of communication from the DOJ. “This underhanded move just really makes me wonder whose children matter,” said Commissioner Tami Sawyer. “And until we can see that all kids do matter, that black and brown kids matter in Shelby County, we’ll have to continue to fight.”