Big changes planned for Shelby Co. Juvenile Court

(WMC-TV) – Big changes are planned for the Shelby County Juvenile Court. The chances come after a scathing report from the U.S. Justice Department revealed the court system discriminates against black children and fails to provide safe conditions.

Many agencies and different levels of government are teaming up to promote change within the juvenile court system. It is a process they say could take years to complete.

"I'm not too surprised at their findings from what I've observed," said Patrick Stegall, a Memphis juvenile crimes attorney. "The judges do the best they can, but there are so many cases in juvenile court, there's a real backlog if cases."

There have since been discussions between the attorneys from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and those at the juvenile court about state law. Many would like to see changes to the 72-hour time frame for detention hearings.

"Under Tennessee law, it's 72 hours and if you want to change that you'll have to go through the state legislature to change Tennessee law and procedures as well," explained Stegall.

The court system also realizes more has to be done to reduce the number of juveniles who are both detained and transferred to the adult criminal justice system for trial.

Some say this could be the biggest reorganization of the court since the two separate city and county juvenile courts were consolidated in the 1960s.

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