Lawmakers, advocates request DOJ to continue monitoring Juvenile Court

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Several lawmakers and citizen groups are opposing a letter sent by Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael, and Sheriff Bill Oldham that requested the Department of Justice to terminate its oversight of Juvenile Court.

The letter comes after several weeks of contention between County Commissioners and Luttrell. It also comes after County Commission passed a resolution Monday night that Luttrell vowed to veto.

"I signed the letter as the Political Action Chair for the NAACP, also as a citizen of Memphis," NAACP Political Action Chair Tami Sawyer said.

Now, multiple groups and several lawmakers have joined together to send their own request to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The request: to continue monitoring Juvenile Court.

"We respectfully request that the United States Department of Justice deny the county mayor's request to terminate the MOA regarding JCMSC for the reasons discussed fully herein," the letter states.

According to the letter, enough progress has not been made--as required by the agreement for Juvenile Court--to come out from under the oversight.

"Public policy concern of trust in the Shelby County Justice System and DOJ investigation warrant denial of the termination request, especially since the investigation arises from Equal Protection/Due Process concerns with the JCMSC and the fact that many of those concerns remain," the letter reads.

The request points out that bi-annual site visits to JCMSC and other data collection has shown compliance issues.

"The most recent reports in each of these compliance areas indicate that although much progress has been made under the MOA and monitoring by the DOJ, there are still a number of provisions where JCMSC fails to meet compliance requirements," according to the letter.

Those areas are Equal Protection Compliance, Protection from Harm Compliance, Settlement Agreement Coordinator Compliance, and Due Process Compliance.

The letter also states that 16 out of 35 areas hold a "beginning compliance" rating on the DOJ's compliance rating scale, which means that Juvenile Court has "made effort to implement the required reform...but significant work remains on many facets of provision requirements."

In some of those areas a "beginning compliance" rating was received, which included assessing impact policies/procedures/programs on DMC levels at each decision point, revising policies, procedures, and practices to reduce DMC, and developing guidelines and identifying a list of infractions for which a child should not be detained and guidelines identifying a list of infractions for which a child may be detained.

The letter also reports that a recent Equal Protection (EP) report indicates several areas of concern.

Including in those areas of the EP report concern are: "Being Black increases the chances of being detained compared to similar Whites in JCMSC" and "Being Black decreases the chances of receiving a non-judicial outcome (petitioned) compared to Whites in JCMSC." The report indicating these concerns was released just seven months prior to Luttrell's request to end oversight.

People like Sawyer agree there have been some improvements at Juvenile Court, but more needs to be done.

"We ask that federal monitoring continues so that we can know our kids are safe and there is some program put in place so we are reducing recidivism and turning them back whole people to our community," Sawyer said.

"JCMSC continues to struggle with a number of important issues such as high levels of confinement," the letter says.

In addition, it states isolation room time has "increased from the monthly average of 19 hours in 2016 to 54.2 hours in February 2017."

The letter was signed by 19 organizations, including Just City, NAACP Memphis Branch, Tennessee Young Democrats Grassroots Caucus, and Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. It was also signed by Tennessee State Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner. Additionally, 26 individuals joined with the organizations and lawmakers to put their name on the letter requesting continued monitoring.

Luttrell issued a statement saying he stood by his initial request and that progress has been made at Juvenile Court.

"Significant progress has been made at juvenile court during the past five years. Many policies and procedures have been updated and will continue to be monitored by a consortium of agencies and community services. Based on that on-going oversight to ensure the safety and rights of juvenile offenders, I stand by the request to remove juvenile court from DOJ oversight."

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