The St. Louis County Family Court deprives juveniles of constitutional rights, treats black youths more harshly than whites and is rife with conflicts of interest, the U.S. Justice Department charged today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The U.S. will seek a mutual agreement to resolve the violations, but otherwise could litigate. The action is similar to a different Justice Department report issued in March that was highly critical of police and municipal court practices in Ferguson. The new case charges that juveniles do not get adequate legal representation, are held without proper determination of probable cause and may be allowed to plead guilty without clearly grasping the consequences.
The federal report says youths are denied an informal handling of their cases, the desirable course for them, unless they confess wrongdoing, which may “coerce” them into admitting something they did not do. The researchers found that nearly four out of five cases were handled informally, or referred to alternatives such as victim restitution, drug counseling and educational programs. They said blacks are not given as much opportunity to benefit. The report says that adjusted for factors other than race, black youths are 2½ times more likely than whites to be detained before trial and three times more likely to be sent to the Division of Youth Services on parole violations.”I think there are concerns about the operation of juvenile justice systems around the country, but the peer analysis highlighted for us that certainly along the racial disparities line, St. Louis County stood out,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta..