St. Louis County Family Court is Racially Biased

By Sheryl Estrada

The Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. Photo by Shutterstock.

The federal government has again proven racial bias practices exist inSt. Louis County, Mo.

The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Division released a report on Friday stating St. Louis County Family Court is violating the constitutional rights of juveniles and Black defendants are subjected to more severe treatment than white defendants.

In March, the DOJ cited a pattern orpractice of racial biasin both the police department in Ferguson, Mo. and municipal court. The investigation took place following the police-related death of unarmed Black male Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014.

The probe into thecounty’s family court, which wasinitiated in November 2013, analyzed almost 33,000 juvenile cases, including all delinquency and status offenses resolved in the court between 2010 and 2013.

Some of the constitutional violations include: failure to provide adequate legal representation for youth facing delinquency proceedings; failure to sufficiently determine probable cause; and failure to provide due process to children facing certification for criminal prosecution in adult criminal court.

In regards to racial bias, the report states:

The data shows that in certain phases of the County’s juvenile justice system, race is in and of itself a significant contributing factor, even after factoring in legal variables (e.g., nature of the charge) and social variables (e.g., age). In short, Black children are subjected to harsher treatment because of their race.

The DOJ reports it found Equal Protection violations for Black youth at each of these decision points:

1) Lower Opportunity for Diversion: Black children are approximately one-and-a-half times more likely than white children to have their cases handled formally.

2) Pretrial Detention: Race has a significant and substantial impact on pretrial detention.Black youth are two-and-a-half times more likely to detained pretrial than white children.

3) Probation or Parole Violation: When Black children are under the supervision of the court and violate the conditions equivalent to probation or parole, the court commits Black children to the Missouri Division of Youth Services almost three times more often than white children who are under similar court supervision.

4) Restrictive Custody:The odds of the court placing Black youth in Division of Youth Services custody after adjudication (the juvenile equivalent of an adult conviction) are more than two-and-a-half times greater than the odds of white youth placement.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division said the findings are “serious and compelling.”

“Missouri was at the forefront of juvenile corrections reform when it closed its large juvenile institutions and moved to a smaller, treatment-focused system and we are hopeful that Missouri will rise to this challenge to, once again, be a leader in juvenile justice reform,” Gupta said. “This investigation is another step toward our goal of ensuring that children in the juvenile justice system receive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection under the law.”

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