Memphis Asks DOJ to End Juvenile Court Oversight

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Five years ago, the Justice Department concluded that juvenile courts in Memphis failed to give due process to children. Civil rights investigators uncovered significant racial disparities, and they reached a deal to fix some of those failings. Now, local officials are asking to terminate federal oversight, NPR reports. They’re making their pitch to Justice Department leaders, who have a very different view of civil rights enforcement from the previous administration. When the Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Memphis a few weeks ago, he heard an earful from local officials. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell told the attorney general that it’s time to end expensive federal oversight of the juvenile courts. Local officials already have done a lot of heavy lifting, he said. Public defenders now represent 60 percent of the kids who appear in court, up from none five years ago.

President Trump and his attorney general are skeptical of federal involvement in local law enforcement matters. Sessions has signaled he will cut back on investigations of discrimination or excessive force by local police and courts. If local officials are so alarmed by Sessions, County Mayor Luttrell said, it only makes sense the oversight responsibility should be handled locally, not by people in Washington, D.C.  To good government advocates, the idea is premature. “The racial disparities, the disproportionate minority contact, the equal protection deficiencies that were pointed out five years ago have not changed really at all,” said Josh Spickler, a former public defender in Memphis who now runs the nonprofit Just City. He sent his own letter to the Justice Department, urging its civil rights lawyers stay on the case.

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