Prompted by a recent push to stop the federal oversight of what happens inside the Shelby County juvenile justice system, critical discussions involving its safety and fairness for children are back in the spotlight. Local 24 political analyst and commentator Otis Sanford shares his point of view of how the court system should move forward.
The future of juvenile detention is once again a primary topic of political conversation in Shelby County. The issue has been a hot one in these parts for several years after the U.S. Justice Department got involved to address complaints of racial discrimination, a lack of due process, and unsafe housing conditions at Shelby County Juvenile Court.
Since the federal agency intervened, conditions at juvenile court have improved, although there remains stark disagreement about how much improvement has actually taken place.
Wednesday, another facet of the juvenile justice issue resurfaced at a county commission meeting, with talk of building a $54-million detention and assessment center somewhere inside the county. The complex would be a welcomed solution to the grossly inadequate housing conditions at the juvenile court facility on Adams Street near downtown. A second, less attractive option would be to lease and renovate privately-owned space to house juvenile detainees at a total cost of about $30-million over 10 years.
Commissioners made no final decisions Wednesday but agreed to study all options. And they should very carefully.
Juvenile justice is always a major part of the conversation about crime, punishment, and public safety in Memphis and Shelby County. While the politicians continue to disagree about what should be done, most residents simply want an operation that’s fair, efficient, and effective. And frankly, that’s not too much to ask.