Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today issued the following statement on a comprehensive memorandum of agreement between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County (Juvenile Court) to resolve findings of serious and systemic failures in the juvenile court that violate children's due process and equal protection rights.
"Our legal system must protect the fundamental rights of all people, especially juveniles. I was disturbed by the DOJ's findings that due process and equal protection have routinely been violated at the Juvenile Court. However, like a phoenix, out of the ashes of these serious concerns will emerge important reforms that will give us the opportunity to turn our Juvenile Court into a model for the nation. I appreciate Attorney General Holder and all the members of his staff who crafted this important agreement. I also appreciate the leadership of Commissioner Henri Brooks, who first brought concerns about the Court to my attention, which I was pleased to forward to the Department of Justice, and who has provided valuable input throughout this process. I look forward to working with all of the stakeholders and outside monitors to continue improving the administration of justice in our community.
In August 2009, the Justice Department opened an investigation under provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In April 2012, the Department released a report finding that the Juvenile Court fails to provide constitutionally required due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings, that the court's administration of juvenile justice discriminates against African-American children, and that its detention center violates the substantive due process rights of detained youth by not providing them with reasonably safe conditions of confinement.
The agreement announced today provides for a number of reforms, which include:
Creating a community oversight group and the appointment of outside monitors to ensure compliance with the proposed reforms, along with substantial technical assistance from the DOJ;
Assessing where and why disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system occurs;
Establishing an independent dedicated juvenile defender unit in the public defender's office;
Increased legal assistance for juveniles;
Prohibiting pre-adjudication detention for reasons that are not related to public safety or future appearance in court;
Making written findings for key judicial decisions, including transfer hearings; and
Implementing policies in the court's detention facility that will prohibit use of restraints, ensure a suicide prevention plan and require staff to receive training on adolescent development.