(WMC-TV) – In a report released Thursday, U.S. Department of Justice officials say the Shelby County juvenile justice system discriminates against black children and fails to provide safe conditions for juveniles in custody.
After examining more than 60,000 case files in Shelby County, the final report presents an unflattering snapshot of Shelby County Juvenile Court. The document is riddled with accusations of racism and constitutional violations.
The Department of Justice started studying Shelby County's juvenile justice system in August 2009.
The findings, which were released Thursday morning, paint an ugly picture of how juveniles are treated in Shelby County's juvenile detention center.
"We found serious, systemic failures in the juvenile court system in Memphis and Shelby County," said Thomas Perez, of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The study found that the court fails to provide due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings, fails to inform them of their rights and unnecessarily and excessively restrains minors. The report says workers use pressure point control tactics and restraint chairs on children.
The system was also found to have violated federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination.
"African-Americans were treated differently and more harshly during key points in the juvenile court process," said Perez.
Black juveniles were less likely to receive the benefits of more lenient judicial and non-judicial options, according to the report.
"African-American children were one-third less likely to receive a warning than white children," Perez said. They were also more than twice as likely to be detained as a white child and more than twice as many African-American children are transferred to adult criminal court.
Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person is committed to making changes, but he doesn't agree with all of the Department of Justice's findings.
"I don't think that race enters into the decision making process at juvenile court," he said.