DOJ finds ‘full compliance’ at St. Louis Co. Family Court
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The St. Louis County Family Court has fulfilled all requirements of a 2016 agreement aimed at ensuring fair treatment of juveniles, especially black juveniles, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Justice Department launched an investigation of the court for juvenile offenders in November 2013. The investigation was unrelated to the unrest that followed the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014.
The Justice Department’s family court investigation cited racial inequities in the treatment of defendants and concerns that constitutional rights were often violated. The 2016 agreement required several changes, including doubling the number of defense attorneys available to represent indigent youths and ensuring that defense lawyers were appointed in a timely manner and properly trained.
The deal also barred police interrogations at the juvenile detention center unless an attorney for the youth was present, and stressed that authorities make sure juveniles understand their rights before waiving them. The family court also was required to adopt standardized hearings to ensure that juveniles’ pleas to delinquency charges are voluntary.
Family Court Administrator Ben Burkemper said the improvements were due to the combined efforts of all judges and staff.
“We will continue to provide due process and fairness for the children and families in the juvenile justice system, as well as promote initiatives to keep children in school and with their families and communities, where they can grow into good citizens and successful adults,” Burkemper said in a statement.