DOJ accuses St. Louis County Family Court of racial bias

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KPLR) – The U.S. Department of Justice accuses St. Louis County’s juvenile courts of violating the constitutional rights of many of the children in that system, especially those who are black.

The DoJ has been working on its review of the St. Louis County Family Courts since 2013, but few people knew the report was coming out on Friday.

The allegations in the 60 page report may come as a surprise to some, but many who have gone through that system have long claimed it operates with a racial bias against black youth.

“It is shocking and disappointing,” said Tony Rothert, Legal Director for the ACLU of Missouri.

“I did not see evidence in the report that people are intentionally trying to go out and treat people differently based on their race, but you can`t quibble with the numbers that people are being treated differently by their race,” Rothert said.

Among the most controversial findings: that when it comes to pre-trial detention, black kids are 2.5 times more likely to be held than white kids and that young black parole violators are almost three times more likely than whites to end up assigned to state custody.

Part of the problem appears to be the number of public defenders assigned to the county`s juvenile courts.

There is only one.

“It sickens me that the most vulnerable among us, poor minority children, go without the most basic protections under the constitution while the governor and legislature refuse to fund public defender budget requests for juvenile advocacy offices and caseload relief,” said Michael Barrett, spokesman for the Missouri State Public Defender System.

The governor did not respond directly to that criticism, but issued a written statement saying: ‘The report released today by the Department of Justice regarding the St. Louis County Family Court is deeply concerning. All Missourians have a right to a fair and equitable justice system, and our young people are no exception.”

The St. Louis chapter of the NAACP helped the DOJ find witnesses to provide accounts of their experiences to the investigators.

“There is going to be a Consent Decree, and if we have our way it is going to be for multiple years and I think it is going to take a ton of oversight to make sure it doesn’t (continue to) happen,” said Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis NAACP President.

“It is sad, but the reason why you won’t get this big uproar reaction to the report out of the African-American community is because it is not sharing with them anything they didn’t know,” Pruitt said. “We are just glad to see there is a third party taking a look at it.”

Neither the judge who oversees the Family Court nor Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster had any comment, saying they were reviewing the findings.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger issued a written statement:

“I am deeply concerned about the findings in the DoJ report. Although the Family Court is operated by the state of Missouri and not St. Louis County, I will strongly urge the Family Court to work with the state of Missouri to fix the glaring problems identified by the Department of Justice.”

Read the full Department of Justice report.