An agreement to overhaul Memphis’ Shelby County Juvenile Court, expected to cost $4.5 million to $6.5 million, was finalized yesterday between court and county officials and the U.S. Department of Justice, reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Twelve signatures, including that of county Mayor Mark Luttrell, sealed the 41-page deal detailing a game plan for addressing problems such as the disparate treatment of black youths, a high number of youths transferred to adult court and jailed while awaiting hearings, and due-process rights violations that include unprepared or overwhelmed defense attorneys.
Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz doesn’t believe commissioners will agree to pay for changes they didn’t help develop and didn’t authorize. “I think the court and administration is gambling that they can convince the commission when they put the pressure on,” he said. “I think they have made a terrible political error. They’re in a hurry, in a rush. They don’t want public involvement.” If the county doesn’t carry out the reforms, federal officials have said they would likely file a lawsuit in federal court to force changes through judicial oversight. U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton said: “We’re hopeful that’s not the route we have to take, but that remains an option.”