Sat04192014

Greater Metro

Justice Dept. moves to engage public in Juvenile Court remedy

U.S. Department of Justice officials on Wednesday (May 9) confirmed plans for their own town hall meeting designed, in part, to help make sure that “people understand the next steps” in bringing Shelby County Juvenile Court up to federal standards.

U.S. Department of Justice officials on Wednesday (May 9) confirmed plans for their own town hall meeting designed, in part, to help make sure that “people understand the next steps” in bringing Shelby County Juvenile Court up to federal standards.

The logistics for the meeting are yet to be set, with the projected time expected later this month or in early June. Last week, the Justice Department released the findings of a two-year study that concluded that the local Juvenile Court operation is unsafe, obsolete and targets African-American youth for more punitive and harmful treatment.

In a brief exchange with The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday night, Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, said the planned public session would feature officials from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and his office.

“These people have done this in New Orleans and across the country. We want to make sure that people understand the next steps, to make sure that our juvenile court system is in compliance with constitutional safeguards and what the report means,” said Stanton.

 “We plan to make the juvenile court here into a model that we can all be proud of and be a model for the rest of the nation. The U.S. Attorney’s office cannot do this alone; the U.S. Justice Department can’t do this alone. We have to have the input as well as the assistance of the community. It’s going to take all of the stakeholders to make the process of moving forward work.”

Last week, Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks called for a unified response to the Justice Department report. She is spearheading a town hall session set for 5:30 Thursday (May 10) at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center at 485 Beale St., the headquarters of Local 1733 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. It was Brooks who (in 2007) petitioned the federal government to examine the treatment of children brought to the court.

“We will have a briefing of the report, utilizing PowerPoint presentation and detailed discussion of some of the findings,” Brooks told the TSD on Wednesday. “There is a lot of information people have brought to me that was put in the complaint that was not used, and we want to concentrate what is there and find out what can be done to go forward.”

 It is absolutely crucial that the public addresses the report, said Brooks.

“There is much more to be done to fix juvenile court and it starts here. This all started with people bringing me their concerns. If it’s going to be fixed, it would take another complaint to broaden the scope, and it’s in the people’s hands.”

Stanton said the two planned town hall meetings in response to the report are entirely separate organic occurrences, sharing the same intent and the same roots.

A native Memphian sworn into office in 2010, Stanton said the report speaks for itself. It’s important, he said, to engage the public in the findings and then to gain more information from the public forums.


 

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