Photo by Ryan Schill, Center for Sustainable Journalism

DOJ, State Officials Agree to Overhaul of Memphis-area Juvenile Justice System

On Monday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and officials in Memphis, Tenn. entered into an agreement  to overhaul the juvenile justice system within Shelby County, long plagued by reports of detainee mistreatment and systemic oversights. An investigative report released by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division earlier this year found numerous due process violations within the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County (JCMSC), with officials unable to provide timely probable cause hearings or required transfer hearings for young detainees. The report also found that JCMSC personnel were holding young people in restraints for much longer than allowed under its own policy, with some detainees held in restraint chairs for five times the facility’s “maximum” duration of 20 minutes. The memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by the DOJ and JCMSC will revise the county’s current juvenile justice policies, with JCMSC officials agreeing to adhere to constitutionally backed due process and equal protection protocols.

DOJ: Sunlight, Lawsuit to Close Miss. School-to-Prison Pipeline

The U.S. Department of Justice says a school-to-prison pipeline that runs through schools, the city police department and juvenile courts threatens children in Meridian, Miss. The school system is negotiating a new set of rules with the DOJ. The city, county, youth court and state of Mississippi, meanwhile, have just gotten hit with a federal lawsuit, and attention that may have already changed their ways. “We filed this lawsuit because we have to,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin, in a public telephone conference on Oct. 25, the day after his department sued the City of Meridian, Lauderdale County, the county Youth Court judges and Mississippi’s Division of Youth Services claiming that the four agencies work together to ignore children’s due process rights and incarcerate them for minor infractions.

Sexual Trauma Marks Girls’ Path to Juvenile Justice System

When Crystal Contreras was seven and living in Los Angeles, her mother put her in the care of someone Contreras saw as a father figure. Instead, he pressured the little girl for sex. For the next three years, until she was 10, the man raped her regularly, often creeping into the house at night without her mother’s knowledge. “I never said nothing to my mom,” Contreras told during an interview in July. “I was scared he would kill her or hurt her or hurt the animals that I had.

Safe Start Center Provides Best Practices for Working with Young Victims of Trauma

The Safe Start Center recently released a publication that outlines the best practices for youth service providers working with children that have experienced victimization or severe trauma. “Victimization and Trauma Experienced by Children and Youth: Implications for Legal Advocates” addresses numerous topics, including the best available assessments and treatments for trauma-related stress in young people. The brief, the seventh entry in “Moving from Evidence to Action: The Safe Start Center Series on Children Exposed to Violence,” contains suggestions for experts in both the juvenile justice field as well as the field of child welfare, providing attorneys and court-appointed advocates with specialized information about trauma-informed practices. The brief lists several symptoms of traumatic stress for workers in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems to note, in addition to multiple screening and assessment instruments commonly used to address past traumatic experiences and exposure to violence by young people. The Safe Start Center notes numerous emerging, evidence-supported interventions, such as Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) and Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Therapy (TARGET) as promising programs for the treatment and rehabilitation of young people effected by trauma and victimization.

School-to-Jailhouse Pipeline Not Only in Mississippi

This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity

Meridian is not alone under the DOJ magnifying glass. In a somewhat similar case in Tennessee, the DOJ says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has failed to inform children of the charges against them and of failing to make sure the children know what their legal rights are ahead of questioning. Like Meridian, the juvenile court is also accused of failing to hold timely hearings. There are varying definitions of a school-to-prison pipeline, said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a nonprofit legal action group that fights racial injustice. “How I like to define it,” Freeman said, “is the use of policies and practices that increase the likelihood that young people become incarcerated.”

That includes at-school arrests for minor behavioral incidents, as well as what he calls more indirect actions, like suspensions, expulsions or references to juvenile court or alternative schools.

Meridian Struggles with School-to-Prison Allegations

This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity

Lionel Townsend will turn 14 in September and a few months after that he will be able to return to school, ending a year of exile. Lionel admits he got into fights multiple times at Magnolia Middle School. When he was charged with vandalizing a school bus security camera, he was booted from school. He fought again in a community day program. The county Youth Court eventually put him on probation and an order to stay at home with an ankle monitor.

Tennessee County Researching Juvenile Justice Fixes

The juvenile justice system in Shelby County, Tenn. is entering its fourth year of federal inspection, now with a thick report about alleged problems.  A full remediation plan for the court could be drafted in the next three months. The Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County denies due process to youth, according to an April, 2012 report by the federal Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. The investigation finds probable cause to believe that some youth are not adequately notified of the charges against them, are not advised of their Miranda rights, do not enjoy timely probable cause hearings and are sent to adult court on only cursory inquiries. The look at 66,000 court records also, the DOJ argues, shows that black children are treated less leniently than white peers.

Funding Opportunity: Become a Reclaiming Futures Site

Reclaiming Futures announced that the DOJ, OJP and OJJDP are seeking applications for $1.325 million in funding (over 4 years) to spread and implement the Reclaiming Futures model. More specifically, grants will be given to build the capacity of states, courts, local governments and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish Reclaiming Futures’ juvenile drug courts. From the request for proposals:
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is pleased to announce that it is seeking applications for funding under the FY 2012 Juvenile Drug Courts/Reclaiming Futures program. This program furthers the Department’s mission by building the capacity of states, state and local courts, units of local government, and Indian tribal governments to develop and establish juvenile drug courts for substance abusing juvenile offenders. For more information and to apply, please click here. The deadline to apply is May 16, 2012, at 11:59 ET.

U.S Child Pornography Cases Rise Dramatically

Nationwide, child pornography cases increased 330 percent from 1999 to 2009, according to a recent article in the Washington Examiner. “Before the Internet, child pornography had almost been eradicated,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride told a reporter for the paper. More than nine million U.S. computers were identified as having shared child pornography between October 2008 and October 2009, an August report by the Justice Department says. Now, the FBI handles more than 2,500 new child pornography cases a year. “A lot of people never would have gone into an erotic video or magazine shop and asked to see child pornography,” criminal defense lawyer Mike Sprano said.

Did Georgia Meet Sex Offender Registry Deadline? Thousands of Federal Dollars Could Be At Stake

It remains a mystery whether Georgia met a critical deadline this week to comply with a federal ruling known as the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006. “We can’t say for sure at this point, we have packets arriving in droves,” said United States Department of Justice (DOJ) Spokeswoman Kara McCarthy. “It may take up to three months for us to go through all of the packets we have received.”

Wednesday was the deadline for the peach state and more than 30 others to implement the federal mandate that requires states to establish a sex offender registry for adults and juveniles that connects with a national registry. “To date, 14 states, nine tribes and one territory have substantially implemented Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) requirements,” said Linda Baldwin, Director of DOJ’s Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) Office, which administers SORNA. “We are reviewing as quickly as possible the materials submitted.”

DOJ has confirmed that Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming have substantially implemented SORNA, along with nine native American tribes and the U.S. territory of Guam.