Monitors Fault Memphis Juvenile Detention Practices

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A report to the U.S. Department of Justice about juvenile detention in Memphis contains allegations of youth being disciplined in 23-hour, locked-room confinement with handcuffing and shackling during the single out-of-room hour, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reports. The detention chief denied the practice exists. Youth interviewed for the report by David Roush of Juvenile Justice Associates in Albion, Mi., said they sometimes do not get to shower daily and are confined in locked rooms 22 hours a day on weekends, which Chief Kirk Fields also disputed. Roush has been monitoring juvenile protection from harm under a 2012 agreement between DOJ and the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County.

He called documentation by the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department of Juvenile Detention Services “unacceptable and unreliable,” noting that “a review of all youth observation logs from March 12, 2016, were so incomplete that it was impossible to determine the amount of time youth spent in locked room confinement.” DOJ found discrimination against African-American children, unsafe conditions of confinement, and failures to provide due process to youth appearing for proceedings. Black youth are still overrepresented and “race continues to explain case outcomes even after taking into consideration relevant legal factors, such as crime severity, crime type, etc.,” wrote Michael Leiber of the University of South Florida, who monitors equal protection. Juvenile Court Judge Dan Michael said the court has done a “tremendous” amount of work the last four years in diverting children from the system, including children diverted into community programs to help them learn not to reoffend. He said the number of children in detention has been cut “dramatically.”

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