The Crime In Memphis And Juvenile Justice System

It has been agreed for years that racism and prejudices against people of color is wrong. Equality refers to the fact that people should be treated equally despite the color of their skin and that their race should not be in consideration when treating people with respect (May and Sharratt 317).  In situations involving the law, equality means that people should have equal treatment under law, especially when referring to the juvenile court systems. When I read different articles about Memphis in order to choose the topic of this paper, every article had to do with either gun violence and/or the crime in Memphis, but no articles focused on racism and racial profiling in the juvenile court system.

In a city that has a majority population consisting of African Americans, Memphis does not treat them with the respect and equality they deserve.  

There are three main aspects to racism: one is when culture and biology are used to justify the reasons that someone believes one culture is superior to the other, another is personal prejudice and the third aspect is institutional racism.

  This paper will mainly focus on institutional racism and prejudice. Institutional racism refers to interactions between police and minorities such as being stopped and searched.  (Zatz  4)  Trenthem 2 An important aspect of institutional racism is the term petit apartheid. Petit apartheid refers to factors that influence the policing decisions in the justice system including (rough) treatment and the lack of consideration for African American suspects.  History of racism  African Americans have been discriminated against since almost the beginning of the discovery of the United States on the grounds of their skin color.

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It started with slavery and continued with segregation in the form of laws.  

Slaves were considered property in the 1600’s until the 1800’s because people viewed them as inferior. They did not have the freedom or the rights that white people had, and they were subjected to torture and inhumane treatment including the exploitation of their labor. After the Civil War, slavery was prohibited but this did nothing to change discrimination and segregation. Many states had implemented Jim Crow laws furthering the justification of discrimination. African American people were denied the right to vote, eat at the same restaurants as white people, and sit on the same seats on a bus as white people, among other things.  The Jim Crow laws were enforced until the 1900’s and African Americans were still being subjected to assaults and lynching. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s, about 3000 black people were lynched and the people who did the lynching were commonly not held accountable. After the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the separate but equal doctrine was passed. This doctrine helped reinforce policies to desegregate.  

Today, compared to white people, black people are 7 times more likely to be murdered and twice as likely to be the victims of other violent crimes including sexual assault, rape and  Trenthem 3 robberies. (Banks  1177). 13% of the population is made up of African-Americans while African-Americans make up 50% of the overall arrests. In 2002, African-Americans made up 45% of the federal and state prison population, and in 2004 they made up over 40%. (Harrison and Beck 2005) Racism in the Memphis Juvenile Justice System During the Jim Crow era, the Memphis Juvenile system had ‘white days’ and ‘colored days’ to listen to court hearings. A change did not occur until 1964 when Judge Kenneth Turner was appointed and helped de-segregate the system. Judge Kenneth Turner was considered a very good and admirable person. He was praised for not being racist and described him as ‘color-blind’.

He helped kids avoid a criminal record, but all of this was not the case. His punishments hurt black families severely and he allowed reporters into the hearings. He also had a thing for public shaming, even fining the families for their child’s truancy and sending fathers to jail who could not pay child support. He kept doing this until the 1990’s as he kept transferring juveniles to adult courts, describing them as vicious criminals. Turner finally retired in 2006 and Henri Brooks saw the flaws in Turner and set to update the system. Brooks proposed a bill in 2005 to collect data on racial profiling. This bill was dismissed because people thought it was a waste of time and money. Brooks can be considered a civil rights activist as she was the first to pass legislation enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act.  Trenthem 4 Criminologists have conducted many studies and research to determine whether racial discrimination exists in the justice system. Most researchers agree that even though there is racial discrimination within the system, the system is not characterized by it, which means the discrimination is not systematic. (Blumstein 1995). 

However, Joan Petersilia, an American criminologist, found that the processing system treated people differently. She said that although minorities are more likely to be released after their arrests compared to whites, minority offenders were more likely to be given longer sentences and to be put into prison, compared to white people.   Other researchers have challenged the dispute that there is no systematic bias in the justice system. For example, American criminologist Georges-Abeyie did research on how discrimination focuses easy decision-making points and does not consider informal law enforcement action.  When assessing a system and if that system operates in a preferential manner, it has been argued that casual decision making determines who’s arrested. (Russell-Brown 28) 

It has been argued that in the juvenile justice system, any discrimination should be separate from the adult justice system because of a high level of discretion that is in the juvenile justice system and because most adult criminals begin their criminal career in the juvenile justice system when they were younger. (Pope 1990) According to the results of two third of the studies William Feyerherm and Carl Pope conducted, they concluded in 1990 that discrimination in the juvenile justice system happened   Trenthem 5 either directly, or indirectly. They also believe that race is factor in the response of juvenile crime, even though the decision-making system is complex. The Building Blocks for Youth organization collected information about the statistic of the juvenile justice system and found that even though African Americans only make up 15% of the nation, they also make up 44% of young people that are detained, 26% of juvenile arrests and 58% of juveniles admitted to state penitentiaries.   Researchers have examined various parts of the justice system to determine racial discrimination.

These factors include police arrests, juries, bail, and sentences the judges give the juveniles.  Police Arrests in Memphis  Research has shown that race sometimes determines a police officer whether to make an arrest or not. Police officers also take behavior into consideration when deciding whether to make an arrest. If the police feel disrespected, they most likely will arrest the person. Along with their race, police may also be influenced by the juveniles’ neighborhood, which guides them on whether to use force. Police are more likely to make an arrest or stoop down to physical violence if they live in a poor neighborhood or a neighborhood that is predominately black. (Black 1964) In Memphis there is a population of 670,000 as of 2014. African Americans make up 62.2% while white people make up 31.7% of the population. Meanwhile, African Americans make up 86% of the arrests.   Trenthem 6 201 Poplar  In 1994, the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act was passed which gave authority for people to intervene when finding out that people have violated the constitution while handling juveniles.

A lot of juveniles reported fearing for their safety and lives and the over-use of constraints, which were used almost every day on someone.  Memphis had to start sending in progress reports to the department of justice and after an investigation in 2000, 201 Poplar had achieved good compliance with the reforms.  In 2009 the Department of Justice intended to do another investigation of the court and the investigations were made in both January 2010 and 2011. They concluded in 2012 that there was discrimination towards African American children, including unsafe conditions and failure to provide due process. The DOJ said black children have less of a chance to receive diversion lenient sentences than white children.  This investigation ultimately means that there is still a disparity in the Shelby County Justice System and it is hard to figure out how to find solutions towards the problems.  In 2016, the Civil Rights Museum hosted a meeting, attendees included Winsome Gayle from the Department of Justice and P. Moses, who founded the Black Lives Matter movement in Memphis. P. Moses felt like the meeting did not do anything good for the juveniles in Memphis  and felt the meeting was all for show.

Moses questioned the leaders of the meeting, asking them where $250,000 came from to install bulletproof glass in the detention center when they were supposedly low on money.  Trenthem 7 There are multiple programs that help keep kids away from getting in trouble with law enforcement in Memphis like the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention and My Brother’s Keeper, but it doesn’t help when kids have already gotten in trouble and are in the system. Mental Health of the Youth and Possible Solutions ‘I am deeply concerned with the conditions of our youth, especially those entrenched within the juvenile justice system.’ Says Thurston Smith, a juvenile-justice advocate and mental health program manager. Smith believes that although there is a remarkable amount of youth who participate in atrocious crimes, the problems that most of the juveniles’ face are dismissed and subsequently the children are thrown into a penal institution or other form of punishment, whereas real treatments (like psychological help) are overlooked because of their race, and economic status.  

Generally, people stigmatize these kids and blame their behavior on the way they were raised by their parents or they just do not care about the law, meanwhile the actual cause for a majority of their behavior is completely ignored. If we want to make improvements in the system, we should start mental health programs. (Smith 2017)  As mental health issues increase, we should devote more resources towards the conditions. In reality, the juvenile justice system in Memphis has not done anything to contribute towards this problem. Early interventions for mental health problems are important and why the juvenile justice system in Memphis should lean towards a mental health approach more.   Trenthem 8 The costs of managing the juveniles in the justice system is more than providing counseling and other resources. ‘If we are indeed concerned with the well-being of our youth and are seeking real reform in our juvenile justice system, then we must change our approach’ Smith says, meaning if we do not do so, then we can expect a downward trend.   

There is an agreement by many people that these acts need to be changed and removed. It supports the argument that these behaviors were ingrained in the past and it is hard to eliminate, but there are ways to eradicate it.  Anyhow, no matter what the conclusions are from the studies, it has been proven that there is racial discrimination within the system and these juveniles deserve the same treatment as their white peers. To solve this solution, we need to get the attention of the people who are in power and who make the decisions in the system. We also need to teach the people who make decisions in the future to act better morally and eliminate the discrimination from the system.  If we remain optimistic, we can alter Memphis into a better city. It isn’t necessarily one or two people who are racist but rather a whole institution and if we come together and work on a plan, Memphis will be a better place in terms of equality overall. 

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The Crime In Memphis And Juvenile Justice System. (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

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