News and Press Releases

Department Of Justice Releases Investigative Findings On
The Juvenile Court Of Memphis And Shelby County

April 26, 2012
Memphis, Tenn. – Following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department today
announced its findings regarding the Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center. The Justice
Department found that the juvenile court fails to provide constitutionally required due process to
all children appearing for delinquency proceedings, that the court’s administration of juvenile
justice discriminates against African-American children, and that its detention center violates the
substantive due process rights of detained youth by not providing them with reasonably safe
conditions of confinement. The investigation, opened in August 2009, was conducted pursuant
to the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title VI of the Civil Rights
Act of 1964.

“This report is a step toward our goal of improving the juvenile court, increasing the public’s
confidence in the juvenile justice system, and maintaining public safety,” said Thomas E. Perez,
Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Upholding the constitutional
parameters for children appearing before the court is necessary to achieve these ends. The
department will work with Memphis leadership to create a comprehensive blueprint that will
create sustainable reforms in the juvenile justice system.”

"While the Civil Rights Division's findings are serious and compelling, I am encouraged that the
leadership and staff of the Shelby County Juvenile Court and Juvenile Detention Center have
demonstrated that they intend to take immediate action to remedy the various constitutional
deficiencies identified,” said Edward L. Stanton, III, United States Attorney for the Western
District of Tennessee. Our central objective is to ensure that our juvenile justice system works
and adequately protects the rights of those youths who come before Juvenile Court. We look
forward to working together to reach this goal, and ultimately establishing a model Juvenile

In January 2010 and 2011, Justice Department attorneys visited the court and detention center
with consultants in the fields of juvenile representation, statistical analysis and juvenile
protection from harm. The Justice Department and consultants interviewed magistrates,
probation counselors, attorneys, administrators and children appearing before the court on
delinquency matters. As part of the investigation, the department’s attorneys and consultants
conducted an in-depth analysis of over 60,000 youth files and reviewed policies and procedures,
recordings of hearings, court documents, case files, detention material and statistical data.

The Justice Department found a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct in several areas,

 Failure to provide timely and adequate notice of charges to children appearing on delinquency proceedings;
 Failure to protect youth from self-incrimination during probation conferences;
 Failure to hold timely probable cause hearings for youth arrested without a
 Failure to provide adequate due process protections for children before
transferring them to the adult criminal court;
 The treatment of African-American children; and
 Failure to adequately protect detained youth from self-harm and unnecessary and excessive restraints.

The Justice Department has received extensive cooperation from Judge Curtis S. Person who
encouraged court personnel to provide full access to the information necessary for our review.
Judge Person and his staff have demonstrated a desire to continue in a collaborative manner to
remedy the deficiencies within the juvenile court and its detention center. The department
welcomes this opportunity to continue working with Judge Person and the other stakeholders to
improve the court’s services to those children appearing before it and housed in the detention

This investigation was conducted by the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division.

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