Since the Department of Justice found that African American teenagers were twice as likely to be sent to adult criminal court for minor infractions than white teens, the Shelby County Juvenile Court entered an agreement with the federal government to make reforms.
In the city of Memphis there is a disproportionate number of minority students in the juvenile justice system, something Memphis City Schools would like to help change. The school district hosted an educational community forum to address that issue.
Representatives from the juvenile justice system, community based organizations, probation officers and others were on hand to learn new ways to keep kids out of the system.
"We want kids at juvenile court that should be there," said John Hall, DMC coordinator. "There are some that shouldn't be there and that is really what were focusing on, trying to keep those away that shouldn't be there."
According to the DOJ, there are proven measures that would help keep youth out of the juvenile justice system.
"What we like to tell community is that you can save way more money by not having kids go into the juvenile system," said the DOJ's Andrea Coleman, who came from Washington, D.C., to lay out the plan to stakeholders. "It should be the system of last resort not the system of first resort."
"Once they go into the court system they sometimes tend to be stuck in the system," added Hall. "It can have an effect on the mindset on their behavior."
An initiative launched by the district is the School House Adjustment Program Enterprise (SHAPE), which identifies juvenile offenders and provides them with early intervention mentoring and counseling to deter negative behavior and to keep them out of the juvenile justice system.
"They are here so they can learn more about the issues and they are also here so they can collaborate and understand that there are alternatives to detention," Hall said.
The most important of all is for parents to become more involved in what their children are doing before, during and after school.
"Make sure young people have something to do and are productive with their time, because we know through the research with the Department of Justice that most crime with juveniles occur after school between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.," Coleman said.
This forum was hosted in collaboration with the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, and the Shelby County Disproportionate Minority Contact Task force.