MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Friday morning, Shelby County Juvenile Judge Dan Michael gave his annual State of the Court address. It’s the first one since the US Department of Justice formally ended oversight of juvenile court.
Thanking his staff and vowing to continue making changes, Michael said Friday a new chapter has begun with the end of federal oversight of the court.
“We are still monitoring everything we set up through the department, as professionals,” said Michael.
The DOJ said in October it would pull out its monitoring after the request of Michael, former Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, and former Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Some county commissioners expressed outrage, amid lingering concerns of equitable treatment for black and white youth.
In January, commissioners also raised issue with juvenile transfers to adult court, noting Memphis and Shelby County transfer dramatically more youth than Nashville and Davidson County. Michael said Friday it’s an unfair comparison because Memphis is a poorer community compared to Nashville, and poverty is linked to crime.
“When I’m challenged on those issues of transfer, I say which one of these children do you want to take home with you,” said Michael, “Which one of these children do you want to let back in the community without rehabilitation or punishment?”
Josh Spickler with Just City said the system in Shelby County is too harsh.
“It can’t be explained away by demographics or levels of poverty,” Spicker said, “We treat our children differently in our justice system and that is a fact.”
Changes are coming in the way juveniles are handled in the county. An assessment center on the campus of the UTHSC in the medical district should open in April.
County commissioners have approved money for architecture and design for a new juvenile justice facility. Harris says he wants the facility to be designed purposefully small, with space to rehabilitate. Preliminary plans call for it to be located next to the current juvenile court on Adams.
Michael has previously called the conditions there abysmal.
“We need a facility that respects them despite the fact they are charged with breaking the law,” said Michael.
“Any resource we can provide our children and families that is not detention, that is not being treated as an adult, this is going to help,” said Spickler.