Behind the Headlines – September 15, 2017

Behind the Headlines – September 15, 2017


– (female announcer)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by Viewers Like You. Thank You. – The state of
Juvenile Justice, tonight, on Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, Publisher of The
Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Josh Spickler, Executive Director, Just City,
thanks for being here again. – Thanks Eric. – (Eric)
Keith Norman is Pastor of First Baptist Church on
Broad, thank you for being here. Bill Powell is former Juvenile Court Settlement
Agreement Coordinator, going to talk a little bit
about what that means, but thank
you for being here. – Thanks for the invitation. – (Eric)
And Bill Dries, Senior Reporter with the Memphis Daily News. This is in some
ways a follow-up, or a part two of a
show on juvenile justice, we had Dan Michael, the Judge
from the Shelby County Juvenile Justice Center two weeks ago. Which was a deep dive into how
he works and how he views the role of the juvenile court, and
you all have worked with him and worked with criminal justice
both with juveniles and adults. And I’ll start for each of you
with a question I tried to pose to Dan Michael, which
is, the Juvenile Court, and I’ll start with you
Josh, the Juvenile Court, Shelby County Juvenile Court,
for a kid who ends up there, should be what? What sort of place,
what sort of outcome, what is its purpose? – I mean it should be an
opportunity for the child. And that is written into the
law as we’ve all discussed many times, it’s not about
punishment when you’re a child, it’s about rehabilitation, and
it’s about taking whatever it was that brought that child
into contact with that court, and using it as a chance for
this community to keep that from happening again, to bring
wholeness to the child, and to the victim
if there is one, and to the community as a whole. – And is the Shelby
County Juvenile Justice Center achieving that? Are they, because what you just
said very much mirrors what Dan Michael said, and you’ve
been a sometime critic of Judge Michael, but you
mirrored what he said I think two weeks ago. – Well the Department
of Justice is here, as we’re here to talk about to
help us address some issues that were not… we’re not bringing
wholeness, we’re not bringing rehabilitation to our community. And the most important
one, the most critical one, is this idea that we’re treating
children differently based on the color of their skin. And that is the one area in this
settlement agreement where we’ve made very little progress, and I
think we can talk about all the details and all the
nuances of this agreement, and all the things that happen
on the way to a resolution of a case in Juvenile Court, but
what we have to start with, I think, and what has been too
often dismissed by the Court is that we still continue, almost
five years into this process, to treat children differently based
on the color of their skin. – Reverend Norman,
your thoughts on this. Your thoughts on what should the
Shelby County Juvenile Justice Center be to kids
who do end up there, and where is it
lacking or failing? – Well I couldn’t agree more
with what Josh has already said, where we’re lacking and failing
I’d like to start there first, is that we’re not learning from
the things that are driving kids into these particular systems,
and we’ve failed them because when a child is presented
there we automatically know that something has occurred, or
something has failed them in some way. And when we see the occurrence
of this particular failure over and over again it is
incumbent upon us to fix that. Because whatever it is, wherever
we’re failing the kids if it’s within the school
system, failure of activities, if it’s a parental
structure, we need to know that. And I think we have
enough data now to know that. I think we see young people,
young men and young women who present over and over again
and when they are in our system, we can learn from that. And when we learn from that
we should fix those systems. Now, I agree with
Josh on another point. We have learned in some places,
but young people who are, and I want to even
broaden the conversation, brown-skinned, because it’s not
just African-American kids alone now, we see this happening to
our Hispanic children in some sense as well. And so we want to make sure
that a system of fairness, and there are no dual systems,
where one kid gets this system of justice and another
child gets another system. In particular, if a
police officer is familiar, or a sheriff is familiar with a
particular kid in the outlying area, they’re often
talked to or taken home, or I know your parent, or I’m
going to follow up with you at your school. But when inner-city
children, who by-and-large, are children of
color are picked up, they’re often taken
straight to the Center. – And Dan Michael
walked through that, we walked through a kind of
hypothetical scenario that he brought up of the middle class
white kid in Germantown say, or a suburban area, and the
African-American child from the inner city, and talked through,
and he admitted that there was different, there was
often different treatment. How much… I mean there’s so much that you
just talked about that we could dive into, but one
thing that strikes me, you highlighted in a
way, describe that, in that the
Juvenile Justice Center, talking about, you
know the Juvenile Court, they don’t bring the kids there. And Dan Michael
talked about this, that they deal with
who is brought to them. So how much of this is on
the shoulders of the Juvenile Justice Center, to fix a
problem out in the community? Maybe a problem at home, a
problem as you said at schools, or a problem with the police
in how they treat the kids. Do we dump too much and
put too much pressure, and expect too much
of Juvenile Court, given all these other factors? – Well once the
child is brought there, they should be
treated in a just fashion. They should be given
every opportunity, they should have all of
the legal rights presented, there should be nothing that
quote-unquote railroads a kid into a plea of any type. So we should do all of the
things that are there now. Before they get there,
there are some strategies, that if this
Center produces data, and says to the community,
says to Government structure, says to our
schools, to our churches. Here is where we
need your help, here is where
we need your partnership. This is where we can learn
for preventative purposes, and keeping the kids from
actually getting to the Center. – Bill Powell, I introduced you,
and I said we would go a little bit, your long
and complex title. Your role at the Juvenile
Justice Center was what? And you left in
June of this year, is that correct? – That’s correct. My role was kind of to serve as
a liaison between the Justice Department, the
monitors assigned to the case, and Juvenile Court
in Shelby County. So essentially I would be
involved in meetings with the Court, looking at data,
seeing what was going on, relative to the
Memorandum of Agreement, and communicate with
the monitors to get their perceptions and try
to reconcile those, and talk about what
progress had been made, and what progress
needed to be made. And I would communicate that
through two reports a year, and also through a number
of meetings that were held throughout the year. Both with monitors, and the Juvenile Court
staff and personnel. – The monitors, and we
probably should back up, and maybe I’ll get
Bill to do this, Dries. In 2013, the court settlement
that we’re referencing– – (Bill and Keith)
2012. – 2012, thank you. Give us the backstory on that,
& we’ll go back to Bill Powell. – It was a settlement agreement
that did not go to court. Essentially the Justice
Department investigated Juvenile Court for a number of years,
came back with some findings on a number of problems
that they saw in the Court. Went to the County and said ok,
we can do this one of two ways. We can file a lawsuit and
probably then come to a settlement of agreement, or we
can just go to the settlement agreement right now and
try to work things out. And the agreement was
to go to a settlement agreement that would involve
Justice Department oversight. And the way that that
settlement agreement, it’s not just, oh we’ve got
an agreement and the Justice Department goes back to
Washington and takes everybody’s word for it. You have specific
monitors who look at statistics, look at this in a detailed way,
come here to visit, watch the Court operate, and
then you have a coordinator, which was Bill’s position,
over the entire agreement, to make sure that this gets
coordinated among all the different parties in it. – Ok, thank you. And in the Spring,
the, Dan Michael, I think Mayor Luttrell,
Shelby County Mayor Luttrell, asked Jeff Sessions,
the new administration, the new Attorney General,
to have the monitors go home as it were. I mean that enough had been met,
there was no need to continue to be in this
agreement, the Federal, the Justice Department has
not agreed to walk away yet, but that did not,
is it fair to say that did not sit well with you? The request to have
the monitors removed? – Right, I did not agree that we
had completed everything we had committed to do. The agreement that
was signed in 2012, was an agreement
between both parties. The County had input into
formulating that agreement. It enumerated a number of
things that needed to be done, should be done, and
that the County agreed to. We have been working, I have
been working specifically on that since even before
the agreement was signed, after the findings were issued. And I felt that we had
made considerable progress, but we had not
completed the job, we had not done what
we committed to do. And from my position,
from my standpoint, I had been meeting resistance
throughout this from the Court on a number of issues. And some of it
was clarification, some of it wasn’t just an
outright opposition to it. But the work was hard, but
progress was being made. And I was confident that we
could complete the agreement, and do it in the right way
by honoring everything we had committed to do, and
making the changes that were necessary in this community. When the agreement was
signed, we had all three elected officials basically standing up
saying “Mission Accomplished”, I did not agree with that. And when the mayor signed it, I
felt that my legs were taken out from under me, and essentially
my position was irrelevant. That what I had been doing was
trying to persuade the Court, the Sheriff, everyone involved
that the agreement needed to be met, we needed to
continue working on that. And I didn’t see my role as
being viable at a point where we sent a letter saying
everything had been done, and we had done enough. I did not agree
with that, went in, spoke to the Mayor, about that. I was not, I did not see the
letter before it was sent. I saw a draft which
looked very different, but when the actual letter was
sent asking that the agreement be terminated, I could
not agree with that, could not support it,
and I went in and resigned. – (Eric)
I’ll go to Bill Dries. – Bill, the draft that you saw, can you talk about
how it was different? Was that, the draft letter
something that you felt you could live with? – The draft letter
didn’t look anything like it, it was like two
completely different documents. It was the
difference between Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet,
in my mind. It didn’t, and
whether I could support it, I probably would not have
gone in and resigned on that, because it did not ask that
the agreement be terminated. And that was kind of the
kicker from my standpoint. It again, I felt that I had
been pushing against the tide, with some success, but when
all three elected officials felt that the work had been completed
and publicly stated that, what am I pushing against? You know, so… – At the press conference
at the outset of this, in 2012, Curtis Person, Jr.,
was the Juvenile Court Judge, and he said pretty prominently
that he didn’t agree with all of the findings, even though he was
signing off on the agreement. Did that make your
job more difficult, is part of the tide that
you were talking about? – It was part of it. I think that, and I had this
discussion with Judge Person, and many people through
Juvenile Court throughout. A lot of them were
offended at the findings, and when the agreement was
signed because they felt that they were being accused of making racially
motivated decisions. I did not read it that
way, and never felt that way. The findings essentially said that there were
disparate outcomes. It did not assign blame, it
did not assign motivation, it did not assign
intention to those actions, but that was simply the outcome. So what I had advocated for and pushed was don’t
take that personally, let’s use it as a
self-examination to see what we’re doing, and why we are
getting these types of outcomes, when we’re all working
the best we can to ensure
a fair justice system. So I thought we needed
to do that examination, but a lot of people
harbored ill-will about that, and I think interpreted it as an
accusation that they were making racially motivated decisions. – Have the monitors been
fair in their approach? – Absolutely they
have been fair. And I think Judge Michael’s
comments on the last show were completely unfair to them. I’ve done this work before. I was involved in the agreement
with the jail that we had. The monitors there
were very difficult, they came here
with the intention, “We’re going to evaluate you,
and we’re going to nail you if you are not doing right.” These monitors came
in on an agreement, not a court action, were under
the impression that everybody wanted to achieve
the same thing. They were very explicit
in that they came in here to try to help. I think they have done that,
I think they have gone out of their way not to
be overly critical, and I think their findings have
been spot on in every report they have done. And our failure to accept
and listen to that has been a detriment in this action. – The show that you reference to
with Judge Dan Michael is online at wkno.org, or over at
MemphisDailyNews.com, so people can watch that. Josh, I’m going to
turn back to you, one of the things that
Judge Michael said last week, is that well,
requirements constantly shifted. That was one of the reasons that
he was motivated to try to end this consent agreement. The other thing he talked about,
and I’ll get everybody’s take on this, was well, we live
in a city that’s 60%-70% African-American, of course
there are going to be more African-American
children picked up, brought in, and in the
Criminal Justice system, that that’s just they’re
apples and oranges in terms of comparing to other
cities, so those two points, your thoughts. – Well and, to be fair, Bill can
speak to both of those things much more clearly than I
can, but to specifically to the moving the goal posts, or
whatever phrase the Judge used, again, Bill can talk about that. What we have though are monitors
that have been reporting consistently for
nearly five years now, to I think nine reports,
and those findings have been consistent, and the
one that hasn’t changed, as I said earlier, is
the equal protection. The way that that
we treat children, black children,
children of color, white children, differently. And that hasn’t changed. And what we constantly hear, and
we’ve heard from Bill today is this resistance to even the
findings as they were stated in 2012. And we heard two weeks ago,
continued resistance to that, not discussing the data that
these monitors are bringing to us, but talking about the
monitors motives for being monitors. How much money they’ve made, or
that they’re just mimicking what the Department of Justice
attorneys are telling them. And that is a very consistent
message that we get from the Judge and from
the Court on this. And it’s very,
very discouraging. – Your take on that,
again statistically I’m not a statistician, but we’ve got a
situation where 60%-70% of the population is African-American,
at least in Memphis, wouldn’t that just drive more
African-American kids into the jail, and this is a distraction
from the harder issues? – The larger question
there is, same offense, same process. So if the same offense
occurs in another community, and the same offense occurs with
a child of color is the process the same? Obviously where you have more
of anything you’re going to see more of that. If there’s more women, it’s
going to be more women in there, if it’s more men,
more men there. But in this case what we’re
clearly talking about is the process was different. How the children were handled
was a completely different system. And so that’s one of
the major concerns. Let me go back to the
monitors for a moment. I had an opportunity to meet
with the monitors almost every time they came. They would call, they
would arrange groups, we would have
parents, and it was, they would say, invite
people, don’t hand-select them, randomly get them in. And so they were discovering the
same thing over and over again. When we would have these forums,
whether it would be in a Church, or the Civil Rights
Museum, or in other places, you would find groups of people
who would by-and-large have the same complaint, that may not
have been in a previous group setting, or had never,
ever met the monitors before. So the data was consistent,
the findings were consistent. – And give me an
example of the complaint, they would say “X,
Y, or Z” happened? – Parents who constantly
came to those forums would say, “My child was told if you go
ahead and confess to this, “or if you go ahead and
admit that you’ve done this, then here’s what would happen.” In other words there’s
a 16 or 17-year-old, a 15-year-old in some cases, who
is being given advice by someone to say you need
to plead to this, or say that you did it, and it
will lessen the charge or do something different here. You can’t do that with a child. You can’t do that with an
adult, but you shouldn’t, you definitely
shouldn’t do it to a child. – (Eric)
Bill Dries. – Bill, you’ve heard the
question here about the disproportionate outcomes,
and minority contact here. Do we have
a problem with that from where you sat
as the coordinator? – There is no doubt
we have a problem. Let me be clear, the Court has
done some good work as far as reducing the total number
of children being held in detention, being
petitioned into Court, receiving diversion, those kind
of things the Court has done very good work. Where they have fallen short is exactly where Keith
has pointed out. Children are not
being treated the same. And again, I don’t
think that this is a, “Let’s put them on this
track versus this track.” It is not that overt. But the outcome for a black
child versus a white child are consistently different
at virtually every stage in the system. And Professor Lieber, who is
the equal protection monitor who crunches all the
numbers on this, has pointed out every time that
similarly situated children are being treated
differently based on race. So he’s factoring
out the offense, he’s factoring out
several other social factors, and the conclusion remains that
children are consistently being treated differently, and
we need to change that. – And then I’ll
go back to Bill, but just to clarify,
outcomes would be? Sentences? – Outcomes would be
whether a kid is detained, versus being released, whether a
child is petitioned into Court, rather than giving a
non-judicial sanction, those type of things. – (Eric)
Okay, back to Bill Dries, we have about five minutes left. – If the settlement
agreement had gone broader, had been beyond the three
officials that we have, having involved say the District
Attorney General’s Office, which makes a recommendation on
whether or not to try the child as an adult, do you think we
would have a better handle on disproportionate
minority contact? – I don’t know
the answer to that, I’m not convinced that
that’s the solution to it, although there are roles
that the DA could play, there are roles that
the State could play, there are roles that
the community could play. But I think what we’re left
with is the processes we have… there are problems
administering those. And I think a lot of
the solution to that is a self-examination of
what we are doing. Are we detaining children
for reasons that are not criminal justice reasons. In other words, is a child held
because his mother cannot come and pick them up? – Well and that’s an
example that Dan Michael raised. He said in his
scenario, and I mean, I won’t get it
perfectly right, but, of the middle-class white
child from the suburbs, whose parents come, he talked
about a two parent family versus a single mom who
can’t get off work, or can’t get there till
later to pick up the child, or comes and says, “Look, this
child is causing so much trouble in my house, I’ve
got other children, I don’t want to take
this child back.”, I mean, he painted a very
dark, and grim picture, your thoughts on that. – On part A of that, let
me say that in some sense, we have always
offered help for that. Our Church has been
one that has said, “We’d like to volunteer with you
and create a process so if this “kid is having a
troubled issue in school, “and it’s not an offense that
rises to the level of taking them to Juvenile Court,
bring him to the Church.” And let’s allow this
to be a holding place, a homework center,
or something if we’re talking about a minor offense. – And is that
allowed under the law? – It is allowable because if
it’s not an offense that rises to a criminal nature, if
it’s something where it’s just disruption going on,
and we are a center, whom has gone and met
the criteria of the court, said look, let us
intervene here, that’s exactly
what we tried to do. Even if you pick that child
up, if there’s a drop-off center other places. Other cities and municipalities
around the United States have taken opportunities to do this. We should look at
some of the laws, particularly in Nashville,
where the aim has been, how do we reduce taking so many
people to jail and especially young people to Juvenile Court. A traffic-type, or traffic
related offenses and so forth. So we’re criminalizing or we’re
raising certain things to a certain level, and we’re just
pushing them into that system. Then there’s no
way to get them out. – Josh, yeah, go ahead. – And I would say that it’s
important to say that we have done that. Through the course of this
process of this settlement, we have driven
those numbers down. But I think it’s
very important to know, and that’s what the
Court always says, and said on this
show two weeks ago, is that those numbers
are down, and they are, there’s no doubt about the fact
that we are learning how to not take children accused
of minor violations into the Juvenile
Court system. We’ve done that, we’ve
done a great job of that. But– – Is that at the
police and sheriff level? – It’s the whole
community, but yes, there and the court,
but what we still have, once they get to the
Juvenile Court system, they’re treated differently. And that is not a distraction,
and that is the issue, the issue is not how many kids,
it’s how we treat them compared to each other. It’s a comparison,
not a total number. – Bill, you wanted
to say something. – That’s right, and I think
a problem that we need to recognize is that a lot of
those issues that are leading to disparity are
because of our practices, policies, and procedures. We have not done a thorough
enough job of analyzing those things that may lead a
child to a certain outcome. That are not
criminal justice related, and those things are not just
with children being brought here, they’re decisions
made whether to petition, whether to give one
sanction versus another, when this started, they did not
have very many objective tools to guide those decisions. Thanks to the nudging by
the Justice Department, some of those
things have come about, but much more work
needs to be done, and that work needs to target why are we getting
disparate outcomes. Not pretending they don’t exist. – Let me just ask a blunt
question: Are we talking about simple prejudice? Are we talking about
institutional racism? Is that what drives this? – I don’t… I think that there may be some
implicit bias that is related. Again, I have not encountered
anyone at Juvenile Court throughout my time with
this, or any other time, where someone was
making a conscious, racially motivated decision. It is more a matter of neglect
or a lack of getting the work done that is going to
target those biases, or those different outcomes. – (Eric)
Same question to you. – There are some assumptions
that are made sometimes I think where people just don’t
have a cultural connection. I’ve been in situations where
we assume that this kid doesn’t have anyone who
will pick him up, or his mom is not
going to answer, or nobody cares. That’s not our decision to make. Our decision is to make sure
that we give this kid every opportunity as we’d
give any other kid. And we are willing
to go to that extent, and not just push him or her
into a system where they’re going to be incarcerated,
and it’s going to turn into something worse
farther down the line. – Alright, well we
are out of time, we will talk about
these issues again, thank you all for being here,
and thank you for joining us. Join us again, next week. [dramatic orchestral music]

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