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Across the country each day, family and Juvenile courts have children passing by their benches on the way to a future that may involve severe limitations on their freedom. Armored in the protections of the constitution and federal law, each child should have a fair and just trial and, if applicable, appropriate rehabilitations and punishments. This should all transpire blind to all but truth. Occasionally we wonder however if lady justice is peeking from behind her blindfold, and if what she is seeing is guiding her sword hand. The Department of Justice is asking this question with regard to St. Louis county family courts:
The Justice Department announced today [November 18] that it has opened a pattern or practice investigation of the Family Court of St. Louis. The investigation will focus on whether the court provides constitutionally required due process to all children appearing for delinquency proceedings and whether the court’s administration of juvenile justice provides equal protection to all children regardless of race.
This investigation will include a comprehensive review of policies, procedures, court documents and statistical data. As part of this investigation, the department will reach out to juvenile justice stakeholders, including community members and groups with knowledge of the Family Court’s processes.
In this investigation the focus seems to be on self-improvement,
“Protecting the constitutional rights of all children appearing in court is critical to achieving our goals of improving juvenile courts, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system and maintaining public safety,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “During the course of this investigation, we will consider all relevant information, particularly any efforts the court has undertaken to ensure compliance with the Constitution and federal law.”
While any wrongdoing is yet to be determined, in a system ran by fallible people it is nice to know that when these questions arise the system is occasionally willing to self-correct. These investigations are rare, however there have been a few over the last handful of years leading to lawsuits and settlements across the country. When our blindfolds start to slip, its nice to know we can be willing to set down our sword and scale long enough to tighten the knots on our blindfold.