Call it an early Christmas present of sorts, especially for teens in Shelby County, Tenn., but a good hard look at how young people have been treated in the juvenile justice system has resulted in an historic agreement between the Justice Department and Shelby County – and this may be just the first of its kind.
The agreement, as Kim Severson reports for the New York Times, seeks to fix a number of very serious problems involving injustice, including:
- Strapping kids to restraint chairs for long periods of time and leaving them alone
- Not giving those kids proper hearings while they sat in jail cells
- No Miranda warnings (“You have the right to an attorney…”)
- Court documents not being provided to the defendants until just prior to hearings (if at all)
Severson writes that the jailed teens of Shelby County attempted suicide at “record rates,” and given the problems listed above, it’s no wonder why. There are probably other serious issues with Shelby County that have gone unreported, like physical or emotional abuse, though that’s pure speculation.
Crime researchers have noticed that overall rates of juvenile crime have dropped across the nation, due in part to changes in public policy like the decriminalization of marijuana. And because states can no longer afford to incarcerate juveniles at recent rates, other initiatives similar to the Justice Department’s agreement with Shelby County have been gaining ground.