Controversy in Shelby County over the juvenile court system. The county mayor is among those asking the Department of Justice to end federal monitoring of the court.
That monitoring started more than 5 years ago due to injustices toward African-American youth, but there’s debate Wednesday night over whether it’s too soon to roll back that monitoring.
A letter from the county says the goal has always been to address the concerns at the juvenile justice court, but despite their efforts they say there’s still a lot to do.
That’s left many asking the question, why give up on the federal monitoring right now?
Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael wants to make sure everybody understands one thing.
“We’ve never been sued by the Department of Justice,” said Michael. “This is not a court order. It is a contract.”
A letter from the Shelby County government signed by county attorneys asked the Department of Justice to conclude that contract on behalf of the county and the Shelby County Juvenile Court.
The letter also admits 5 & 1/2 years into the monitoring agreement the court will never reach the corrective goals.
Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner lists some of the issues that brought the DOJ, Court and County to the agreement in 2012.
“Restraint of African-American youth, the unequal treatment of African-American youth, prolonged detention, so you just had a myriad of issues which all come back in my mind to due process,” said Turner. “To pull oversight now would be dangerous.”
Congressman Steve Cohen agrees.
In a letter Wednesday addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Cohen cited non-compliance in the monitor’s June report as reasons for continued monitoring. Cohen says that June report found problems with the court’s handling of children in need of psychological evaluations.
Turner calls the monitor an expert with some valuable insight into what’s happening in Shelby County Juvenile Court.
“They’re observing what’s happening and they see that there are still issues. There’s still a need for oversight,” said Turner. “Why have an expert and you don’t listen to the expert.”