A juvenile justice reform approach that’s fit to print

Jan 03, 2013

It’s always satisfying when a national media outlet takes a stand on justice issues at the heart of Vera’s work.

So it was good to see The New York Times’ New Year’s Eve editorial praising the Mid-December settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Shelby County, Tennessee, to reform the county’s juvenile justice system, which a DOJ report released last April found to consistently ignore the due process rights and equal protection guarantees of black youth, and overall to be marred by “a pattern or practice of unconstitutional conduct in several areas.”

This was not a piecemeal tack that focused on conditions of confinement in a given facility. Instead, in a detailed settlement agreement, the DOJ spelled out the many changes in policy and practice that the county must now fulfill.

Two weeks earlier, Annie Salsich, director of Vera’s Center on Youth Justicewrote in this space about the positive significance of the U.S. Department of Justice’s push toward full-scale juvenile justice system reform in Memphis and surrounding Shelby County, where a lengthy investigation by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section found evidence of widespread violations of the rights of the young people.

As Annie Salsich said—and the Times editorial concurred—the DOJ’s holistic view of juvenile justice reform in this case is a model for improving youth justice around the country.