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In Report, Justice Accuses St. Louis County Family Court Of Racial Bias

In a scathing 60-page report, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division says the St. Louis County Family Court has engaged in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of children caught up in the juvenile justice system.

An investigation, which the department started in 2013, found, among other things, that the family court fails to provide children with adequate counsel, sets up systems that could coerce children into admitting guilt, and fails to provide probable cause for children facing delinquency charges.

Some of the most startling findings came when the Justice Department analyzed the statistics of nearly 33,000 cases. In short, they found that even when taking other variables into account, black children faced harsher treatment "because of their race."

Here is the relevant portion of the report:

Usually, after the Justice Department issues a report of this kind, it will go into negotiation with the local authority it is investigating. Many times, the two sides reach a consent decree, which is an agreement designed to try to address the issues raised in the report.

Justice has launched dozens of these investigations since Congress passed a law in 1994 that allowed the department to sue local agencies over violations of constitutional or federal law. In March, the Justice Department issued a similarly scathing report about the Ferguson, Mo., Police Department.

"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," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said in a written statement.

"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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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