Memphis Filmmakers Want More Eyes on the Juvenile Justice System

Pair gather stories from across the country to create a feature film.

Sarah Fleming and Joann Self-Selvidge filming for a story about juvenile defenders

When the U.S. Department of Justice released a stinging investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court in April of 2012, juvenile justice advocates around the nation took notice. The charges were damning — systematic violation of the due process rights of children and and failure to offer equal protection to African American children.

Independent filmmakers Joann Self Selvidge and Sarah Fleming took notice, too.  During the course of the last few years, the pair have met with children, family members and advocates involved with the juvenile justice system to record their stories. Self Selvidge and Fleming have also partnered with the National Juvenile Defenders Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center to broaden the scope of their work beyond Memphis.

“Through eliciting personal narratives, the filmmakers also hope to illustrate the school to prison pipeline, which criminalizes bad behavior at school and disproportionately affects black students, a group that is nearly 3.5 times more likely to be arrested at school than their white peers, according to the U.S. Department of Education.” – High Ground News

 

Read the full story of their journey to raise awareness about the juvenile justice system in the online publication, High Ground News: 

“Memphis Filmmakers Shine a Light on the Juvenile Justice System”

 

Watch this story about one of our own Assistant Shelby County Public Defender’s working in the Juvenile Defender Unit:

 

 

Public Defenders Walk (Bus) in Clients’ Shoes

Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Kelly Pretzer wanted to know what it’s like for her clients in the Mental Health Specialty Court to get to mandated treatments, especially for the vast majority of indigent clients who do not have access to their own transportation. So, Kelly organized a trip through Memphis on Memphis Area Transit Authority to sites where clients are mandated treatment through Shelby County Drug, Mental Health and Veterans Courts. Twelve lawyers with bus passes went to centers for mental health treatment and drug testing, a residential recovery facility, the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Memphis Mental Health Institute.

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Shelby County Assistant Public Defender Kelly Pretzer wanted to know what it’s like for her clients in the Mental Health Specialty Court to get to mandated treatments, especially for the vast majority of indigent clients who do not have access to their own transportation. So, Kelly organized a trip through Memphis on Memphis Area Transit Authority to sites where clients are mandated treatment through Shelby County Drug, Mental Health and Veterans Courts. Twelve lawyers with bus passes went to centers for mental health treatment and drug testing, a residential recovery facility, the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Memphis Mental Health Institute.

The lawyers were divided into groups to simulate what a client from each treatment court might experience on a day when making three appointments. Navigating the bus system was challenging, even with the printed out maps and careful planning by Kelly and her colleague Chelsea Kapes. Groups were often late for appointments (one group was even an hour late!). The lawyers spent far less time riding on the hot buses, than they did walking in between spots, walking from the bus stop to the sites and waiting at bus shelters. Plus there was a great deal of uncertainty about whether we were at the right stop — most stops were not numbered and provided no maps.

The bright spots of the day were at the treatment facilities– such as the Judicare Inpatient Drug Recovery Center, where we met Mimi, the friendly German Shepard who lives there.

Stats for the average route to three locations: 7 buses, 1.5 miles of walking and an hour of waiting.

The hope is that this experience helps our lawyers advocate better for clients receiving treatments — so that they know more about where facilities are located, what’s offered and how long it takes to get to various appointments.

A columnist with the Commercial Appeal rode along with us:  Attorneys Ride Bus in Clients’ Shoes.

You can learn more about the challenges faced by poor people who must rely on public transportation in this article by The Atlantichttps://www.theatlantic.com/…/stranded-how-americas…/393419/

And this piece recently published in the The Commercial Appeal about the perils of being without a car in Memphis: http://www.commercialappeal.com/…/weathersbee-pe…/100812326/

Task Force Urges Tennessee to Reform Public Defense

“If you are poor, your lawyer is often overworked and grossly underfunded” via The Commercial Appeal
Shelby County Assistant Public Defenders Melody Dernocoeur, Phil Harvey featured in the Commercial Appeal.

This week, a task force appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to examine indigent defense, specifically how the defense of poor people is funded, released its findings. The task force has met and conducted listening tours for the past 16 months.

Tennessee has a hybrid system in which Public Defender office’s handle the vast majority of counsel for the poor. Private attorneys are appointed to cases these offices cannot take, such as a case with co-defendants and one person is represented by the public defender.

“Based on the task force report, I’m hopeful Tennessee will finally establish reasonable workload controls that ensure we can meet the minimum ethical obligations that all lawyers owe their clients.”  –  Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush

 

Among the top recommendations from the task force via The Commercial Appeal:

  • Raise the rate of private attorneys appointed to represent the poor from $40-50/hour to $75-125/hour.  Currently, Tennessee’s compensation rate is among the lowest in the country.
  • Eliminate the caps on how much time can be spent on an appointed case.
  • Develop a training and certification process for new lawyers, to ensure standardization of skills
  • Creation of a commission to oversee all appointed counsel, including the defense of children.

We look forward to seeing the legislation that will come from this report and are hopeful it will lead to every Tennessean, regardless of income, receiving a zealous defense in our criminal justice system.

You can read the entire article in this story via The Commercial Appeal

You can also read the entire report here.