Juvenile Court continues effort to eliminate racial disparity
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Juvenile Court is seeing improvements on its goal of equalizing treatment of black and white youth coming into the court. However, the improvements are not coming as quickly as juvenile court representatives hoped.
The county and U.S. Justice Department, since 2012, have been looking into why black youth are referred to court and detained more than white youth.
"In 2015, based on the numbers, there was no change or little change, and that is why quite frankly we are scrambling to make things better," Juvenile Court Chief Administrative Officer Pam Skelton said.
Skelton spent time Wednesday morning informing commissioners how the court is working to equalize treatment of black and white youth.
The eighth formal review came with mixed results stating, "Positive signs also exist that youth are being diverted away from harsher treatment–still the relative rates or gap...at each stage has not closed."
The review states four black youth per 100 are referred to court, while the number for whites is one per 100. Two black youth are detained to every one white.
In 2015, two white youth were waived to adult court, while 29 black youth were waived to adult court.
"There will never be enough police officers. There will never be enough jails. There will never be a way to stop this once you start down the path. The goal is prevention," Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton said.
Juvenile court leadership said they're focusing efforts on training Memphis Police Department on which youth to detain and which to simply issue a summons, including finding alternatives for youth charged with domestic violence.
Eighty percent of juvenile referrals come through Memphis Police Department. Wednesday, court staff said they have started a weekly in-service training with police that will last through October.
They've also overhauled their web page and worked to increase community outreach.
Officials said they expect the next reviews to be better, as they will include data sets from 2016.
WMC Action News 5 tried to ask about the report and the improvement efforts, but Skelton and other leaders refused to tell us more.
"Just what we said in there stands, thank you," Skelton said after the meeting Wednesday morning.
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