Justice Advocates Warn Community About Proposed Shelby County Juvenile Assessment Center

We originally published this post in October of 2017 when the concept of the Juvenile Assessment Center for Memphis was rolled out. The Commercial Appeal ran a series of pieces — both for and against – JACs. We are re-publishing this piece as the legislation that authorizes a pilot JAC in Shelby County (HB2428/SB2624 ) is currently being debated by the Tennessee General Assembly.

 

“There has been no evidence that JACs have a positive impact on DMC (Disproportionate Minority Contact)  and, in fact, there is concern they could make it worse. If net widening does occur, it will sweep in more youth from the inner-city than the suburbs.”

– Bill Powell, settlement agreement coordinator for the U.S. Justice Department’s Memorandum of Agreement with Shelby County Juvenile Court from 2012 until he resigned in June. Powell served three mayors as the county’s criminal justice coordinator.

 

The Commercial Appeal looked at what Memphis justice advocates had to say about the proposal to create what are commonly called Juvenile Assessment Centers (JAC) in Shelby County. The previous week, the Commercial Appeal published pieces from those in support of JACs. The idea is to intervene with resources in the lives of young people who get into trouble, so that they do not get entangled in the criminal justice system. If developed, the facility will be called a Youth Assessment and Resource Center or (YARC).

But a major concern is that this center could result in “net widening” and actually bring more young people of color into an already broken system.

Click this story link to read Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner’s perspective. Commissioner Turner says anyone serious about addressing poverty and crime in Memphis should be paying close attention to what happens in Juvenile Court and with the proposed JACs

Bill Powell, the original settlement coordinator for the DOJ’s agreement with Shelby County also brought in his experience. Powell resigned this summer after learning the County and Juvenile Court had sent a letter to the DOJ requesting the agreement be terminated. Read his piece here.

Cardell Orrin, director of Stand for Children Memphis believes Shelby County’s proposed JAC should be less law enforcement centered and more youth-centered: Click this link to read his perspective.

Rev. Cheryl Beard, a leader of Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope is concerned that our community is approaching reform of the juvenile justice system as a “checklist” – her thoughts are outlined here.

Prof. Demetria Frank with the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law founded Project M.I., an advocacy group focused on mass incarceration and juvenile justice. Prof. Frank sounds the alarm that because Shelby County Juvenile Court has still not made progress in the equal protection of black children, it is destined to repeat the same culture in the JACs. Read her article here.

Read all the stories from those who are both concerned and supportive of building a JAC in Memphis here.

You can also learn more about the DOJs decision to terminate portions of the Juvenile Court agreement here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn about stories of justice (and injustice) in Memphis and beyond.

 

Shelby County Public Defender on Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline in Tennessee

“Each morning, I slow down as I drive past the concrete blocks in downtown Memphis that once held up the Confederacy.

It has become a daily source of inspiration to reflect on the unrelenting courage, commitment and creativity that leaders in my community displayed to bring down monuments to oppression and inhumanity. Years of meetings, protests, threats, paperwork and political maneuvering culminated in the erasure of these public symbols of white supremacy.

As the Chief Public Defender for Shelby County, this gives me hope. It demonstrates that this community can make difficult change when there is a sustained will to confront injustice.

Razing racial disparities in our juvenile justice system will require the level of courage, commitment and creativity it took to bring down those statues — times 10. That sounds daunting, but Memphis is not alone in this fight. What is wrong here is wrong in communities across our state” — Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush, Commercial Appeal “Viewpoint”

This Tuesday, the Tennessee General Assembly convenes the 2018 legislative session. Over the next few months, we could see laws proposed that dramatically alter the way all children in Tennessee are treated, particularly youth  of color who come into contact with the juvenile justice system.  Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush was invited to contribute his perspective about a report recently issued by the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The recommendations in this report could be used to create a more fair juvenile justice system and curb the number of school children referred to law enforcement.

You can read his entire column in the Commercial Appeal here.

 

Legendary Civil Rights Organization Looks to Public Defenders to Fight Mass Incarceration

Nearly fifty years after his assassination in this city, the organization founded by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reignited King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” in Memphis at their 59th annual convention.

One of the key initiatives will be raising funding, support and awareness on behalf of public defenders through a partnership with Gideon’s Promise, the Atlanta based training program dedicated to building the next generation of public defenders.

SCLC President/CEO Dr. Charles Steele, Jr. announced a formal partnership with Gideon’s Promise during the convention’s opening ceremony.

“Our struggle for civil and human rights is far from finished. Nowhere is this truer than in our criminal justice system. It is a system that is almost exclusively reserved for the poor and disproportionately for black and brown people,” said Dr. Steele.  “Public defenders serve as the advocates for these men, women, and children. If they do not have support, they cannot help our most vulnerable communities fight back against this unjust system.”

Gideon’s Promise founder, Jon Rapping, spoke at the convention and called the criminal justice system one of our country’s most vital pieces of unfinished civil rights work. He said that with more resources and support, public defenders can be on the front lines of this fight.

“Public defenders are almost completely overlooked in our national conversation about criminal justice reform. This omission is fatal to a comprehensive strategy to have equal justice,” said Rapping. “We are grateful to Dr. Steele for recognizing the critical role public defenders must play in this important civil rights struggle and for inviting us to partner with SCLC to transform criminal justice in America.”

Rapping said that Memphis is one of its largest partner cities. Nearly a third of the Shelby County Public Defender’s office has taken part in Gideon’s Promise training. Lawyers from our office attending the event were asked to stand and be recognized.

“These people work every day to honor this critically important civil rights work,” said Rapping.

In a joint press release, Gideon’s Promise and the SCLC outlined the goals of the partnership: To provide training and support for public defenders,  raise awareness of the critical role public defenders must play in a broader strategy to transform criminal justice in America, and build strong partnerships between public defenders and the communities they serve.

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