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The Justice Department announced today that it has opened an investigation of Dallas County, Texas’s Truancy Court and Juvenile District Courts. The investigation will focus on whether the courts provide constitutionally required due process to all children charged with the criminal offense of failure to attend school, including whether those protections apply to children whom the county charges with contempt. The investigation will also focus on whether the courts provide meaningful access to the judicial process for children with disabilities.
“Failure to attend school” is a criminal charge under Texas law that is the equivalent of the juvenile status offense of “truancy.” Based on the department’s preliminary review, it believes that the county prosecuted approximately 20,000 failure to attend school cases in 2014.
“The Constitution’s guarantee of due process applies to every individual, regardless of age or disability,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This investigation continues the Justice Department’s focus on identifying and eliminating entryways to the school-to-prison pipeline, and illustrates the potential of federal civil rights law to protect the rights of vulnerable children facing life-altering circumstances. As the investigation moves forward, the Department of Justice will work to ensure that actions of Dallas County’s courts are appropriate; that our constitutional protections are respected; and that the children of Dallas County can receive the meaningful access to justice that all Americans deserve.”
“Ensuring that children’s rights under the Constitution and federal law are protected during the court process is a key step to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “We hope to work cooperatively with the county in determining whether it has taken steps to ensure that its juvenile and criminal courts fully respect the rights of the children who come before them.”
“Ensuring that the children of Dallas County appearing before these courts are afforded the full protections afforded them under our constitution is essential to increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.
This investigation will include a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, court documents and statistical data, as well as interviews of individuals knowledgeable about the courts’ processes.
The department will conduct the investigation using its authority under Section 14141 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 14141 prohibits a pattern or practice of deprivation of civil rights for juveniles in the administration of juvenile justice. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against a qualified individual with a disability in many contexts, including the administration of justice. The department has conducted similar investigations in other jurisdictions, and in 2012 obtained important reforms following its investigation of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee.
The Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division is conducting this investigation. Individuals with relevant information are encouraged to contact the department via email at email@example.com or by phone at 1-855-258-1433.