“You destroy people,” Memphis mother Leah Newsom told a committee trying to organize reforms of beleaguered Shelby County Juvenile Court, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “You don’t just hurt the child, you hurt the parents.” The committee has been meeting to correct problems in the court, which was cited in April by U.S. Department of Justice officials for harsh treatment of black juveniles and violations of due process rights for all youths. Yesterday was the first time the public was invited to come and to participate.
Chief Public Defender Stephen Bush said many juvenile defense systems are watching how Shelby County’s takes shape. Department of Justice and court officials are in the process of negotiating sweeping reforms. Justice Department attorney Winsome Gayle said one of the mandatory changes involves moving the defense of juveniles from control of the court and placing it under Bush, who currently oversees the representation of indigent adults. Committee leader Bill Powell, the county’s criminal justice coordinator, agreed yesterday that current funding is inadequate to give attorneys the resources, training and time to properly represent the volume of youths. “Juvenile defense has to be done differently,” he said. “Folks, this is a big item and a big-ticket item.”