Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Black youth still overrepresented in Shelby justice system
Published April 13, 2016


A Justice Department official says the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County has made little progress in addressing the overrepresentation of black youth.

The Commercial Appeal reports Special Litigation Counsel Winsome Gayle made the remarks at a community meeting at the National Civil Rights Museum that drew about 200 people.


“The court has done a good job of collecting data, but there hasn’t been enough movement in figuring out how to address the problems that are showing up in the data,” Gayle said.

The DOJ entered into an agreement with the court in December 2012 to address problems found in a 2009 report. They include discrimination against African-American children, unsafe conditions of confinement and lack of due process.

“Black children have a lesser chance of receiving diversion and lenient disposition options than white children in Shelby County,” the DOJ found in its report. It also found black children were transferred to the adult system at more than twice the rate of white children.

“There is still a disparity as far as that is concerned,” Gayle said. “The disparity is so great that we can’t even do a comparison, because it’s mostly black kids.”

Gayle said some improvements have been made in the area of due process. They include the addition of a juvenile unit to the public defender’s office and weekend hearings.

The number of children detained overnight has been reduced, but there are other problems with detention have gotten worse since the Shelby County Sheriff took over operations last year.


A December report by a consultant found increases in suicidal behavior, youth-on-youth assaults and the use of physical restraints.

“We’re not ignoring that,” Gayle said.

Gayle said this week the DOJ has been conducting its biannual assessment of the court. The department has offered the expertise of its facility consultant to the sheriff.

“We’re going to be coming back,” she said.

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