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Investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2012
68 pages
This report presents results from the investigation of the Shelby County Juvenile Court (SCJC) in Tennessee by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The investigation's general finding is that there is reasonable cause to believe that SCJC fails to ensure due process for all children appearing for delinquency proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court has established the parameters of due process for children facing delinquency proceedings and thereby subject to the "awesome prospect of incarceration." In this context the Supreme Court has held that juveniles processed by juvenile courts must ensure the juvenile's right to counsel, the right to notice of the charges, the right to be free from self-incrimination, and the right to confront witnesses. It has also held that a juvenile facing the possibility of a transfer to adult criminal court must be accorded the protections of due process, including a hearing, the right to representation by counsel, access to the evidence considered in determining the waiver, and a statement of the juvenile court's reason for waiving its jurisdiction. The investigation determined that the SCJC fails to provide constitutionally required due process to juveniles of all races. In addition its administration of justice discriminates against Black youth. Further, the SCJC violates the substantive due process rights of detained youth by not providing them with reasonably safe conditions of confinement. Details are provided on these findings and the investigative procedures followed. Remedial measures are specified for SCJC's compliance with laws and court rulings pertinent to due process, equal protection, and protection from harm. In addition, resources that can assist in the court's reform efforts are noted.