News

CASA Fundraiser Offers Cornhole, Minor League Baseball

CASA of Northeast Tennessee is hosting a cornhole tournament on July 27 at the Johnson City Cardinals Stadium. The event will run from 1 to 5 p.m. A $30 fee will get a two-person team registered for the tournament, as well as a t-shirt and a ticket to the baseball game later that evening. Call (423) 461-3500 for more information or download this brochure and registration form. All proceeds will benefit CASA.

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Juvenile Judge Launches Parenting Class

Williamson County Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee says she sees it every day: parents and teens in her court struggling to communicate with each other. So she is doing something about it. Guffee has partnered with psychologist and author Dr. James Wellborn to offer a parenting course one Saturday a month. Classes will be held from 8 a.m. to noon beginning July 20 and running through December. “Raising teenagers can be challenging…” Guffee said. “This seminar will provide parents with valuable tools to improve communication.” Her hope is that the effort will improve relationships in troubled situations and prevent others from ever being involved with the juvenile system. The Williamson Source reports.

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Mental Health Records in Custody Proceedings Featured in July TBJ

Nashville lawyer Siew-Ling Shea looks at how mental health records come into play in divorce custody proceedings in the July Tennessee Bar Journal. Knoxville lawyer Don Paine does double duty in this issue with a column on substitutes for dead plaintiffs and defendants and a feature story about the late Chief Justice William J. Harbison.

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Juvenile Transfer Decisions Worry DOJ Monitor

A 14-year-old boy was recently transferred to adult court in a short amount of time by Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County magistrate Dan Michael -- and this has Department of Justice due process monitor Sandra Simkins questioning the move. Simkins was appointed by the DOJ to oversee changes to the court following a two-year investigation in 2009, which revealed civil rights concerns, routine violations of due process protections, and transfer hearings set only two weeks after a child’s arrest. “The rushed time frame [of transfers], added to the woefully low allocation of resources, challenges the integrity of the entire system,” she said. The Memphis Flyer has the story.

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New Juvenile Judge Calls for Tougher Curfew and Truancy Enforcement, Laws

Newly installed Chattanooga Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw intends to step up enforcement of youth curfews and truancy laws, Chattanoogan.com reports. At a speech yesterday to a local group, Philyaw said curfew enforcement has been "non-existent" and the situation is about the same for truancy. Philyaw also has undertaken an effort to rewrite the curfew ordinance and has presented a draft of proposed revisions to Mayor Andy Berke. Finally, Philyaw said the court is pursuing several initiatives to deal with these issues and is working with prosecutor Boyd Patterson, the former gang task force leader who has been assigned by the district attorney's office to work in Juvenile Court.

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Redactions of DCS Records Questioned

Newly released records from the Department of Children’s Services contain substantial redactions of information that the Tennessean says appear “random” and “contradictory.” According to the newspaper’s review, in some cases DCS redacted autopsy results, which are routinely made public by the state’s medical examiners. In other cases, DCS redactions were contradictory, concealing cause of death on some pages, while leaving it unedited elsewhere in the same child’s file. Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy, who ordered the records released and reviewed each one, said last week that at least 129 pages contained redactions that may have gone beyond what she ordered DCS to eliminate to protect the confidentiality of families.

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Panel Wary of Charter School for Juveniles in Custody

Former Memphis mayor Willie Herenton’s plan to extend his charter school network to Nashville hit a roadblock after a review committee “picked apart his plan and recommended denial,” The Commercial Appeal reports. Herenton’s Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development is designed to help high school students in juvenile custody learn entrepreneurial skills. A similar school will open in Shelby County this fall. The Nashville review committee, however, said the application lacked the details needed for the group to understand how the school would operate. The Nashville school board will vote on the recommendation June 25.

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DOJ Finds Sexual Assault Issues at Youth Center

A recent study from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reveals major problems related to sexual assault at the John S. Wilder Youth Development Center in Somerville, WMC-TV reports. According to the story, Fayette County District Attorney Mike Dunavant said he is familiar with the problems inside the center and has prosecuted juveniles and workers for sexual assaults in recent years. The DOJ study found that the center had a 19.5 percent rate of sexual victimization, compared to a state average of 13 percent and a national average of 9.5 percent. Dunavant says he will push for changes in policy to require additional staff training, supervision and reporting of sex crimes.

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Monitor Sees Progress, More to Do at Shelby Juvenile Court

A recent report from a federal monitor overseeing the Memphis juvenile justice system says the system is improving, but still has a long way to go. Sandra Simkins, who was hired to oversee reforms at the Shelby County Juvenile Court, said she still has concerns about the transfer of minors to adult court and defense attorneys’ access to their clients' files. She is expected to return to Memphis in the fall for another site visit and progress report, The Commercial Appeal reports.

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DOJ: Youth in Tenn. Juvenile Correctional Facilities at Greater Risk of Sexual Victimization

Youth in Tennessee juvenile correction facilities are at greater risk of being sexually victimized than the national average, according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Justice. The report estimates that 9.5 percent of youth in state or private correctional facilities across the nation were sexually victimized in 2011-2012. The rate for Tennessee facilities was 13 percent. The report defines sexual victimization as forced sexual activity between youths and all sexual activity involving youth and staff. The Tennessean has the story.

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New Bill Defines Sex Trafficking as Child Abuse

Under proposed legislation, child prostitutes would be considered victims of abuse rather than juvenile offenders and be referred to child welfare, WRCB-TV reports. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would require state law enforcement, foster care and child welfare programs to identify children lured into sex trafficking as victims of abuse and neglect eligible for the appropriate protections and services. Tennessee recently developed one of the nation’s most comprehensive anti-trafficking programs with 12 new laws approved by lawmakers.

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Initial Reports Positive from Boys & Girls Club Program

An $800,000 grant from the Tennessee Office of Justice Programs is funding a three-year initiative in Columbia that refers juveniles from the city’s heaviest crime areas to the Boys & Girls Club. The program is limited to those who have committed first- or second-time minor offenses. Since the start of the program, 28 juveniles have been referred, mostly for truancy or shoplifting, The Columbia Daily Herald reports. Though it is too early to measure the impact of the program, young people who have participated say they found new friends and decided to stay off the streets.

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More DCS Child Death Records Released

Chancellor Carol McCoy released additional records of children who died or nearly died under the supervision of the Department of Children’s Services, the Tennessean reports. The state indicated that the batch of documents released on Friday contains blacked-out information beyond what the court deemed appropriate, citing federal HIPPA protections. In particular, Janet Kleinfelter with the attorney general’s office said that the date of death, provided medical care and potentially other information is protected information. McCoy said the state will turn the next 50 records over on June 26.

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NAACP Holds Criminal Justice Seminar June 8

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County NAACP will host the 6th Annual Criminal Justice Seminar June 8 at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. This year’s event, Let the Dreams Live!, seeks to shed light on how legal issues, social challenges and advents in the law affect social welfare. Featured topics and presentations will include youth- and adult-oriented seminar tracks. Youth presentations include a session by Rosalyn L. Rice, southeast regional coordinator for the Tennessee Commission of Children and Youth, who will discuss children's advocacy, juvenile justice and conflict resolution strategies. Adult tracks will feature presentations on evolving gun laws, inmates’ rights, neighborhood safety and identity theft. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP at chattanooganaacp@comcast.net or by calling (423) 267-5637. For more information contact Eric Atkins at (423) 320-8598 or atkinse@hotmail.com. Chattanoogan.com had information on the event.

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Judge Explains Reasons for Tossing Confession

A Shelby County judge filed an order Friday explaining why he tossed out the confession of a teen that admitted setting a house fire that killed his mother. Juvenile Court Special Judge Dan Michael said he considered 14-year-old murder suspect Jonathan Ray’s age, experience, education and intelligence as well as investigators’ actions before agreeing with the teen’s attorney that the boy was not properly informed of his Miranda rights before answering questions about the arson. A review of the videotaped interrogation reveals that police officers did not read Ray his Miranda rights, but instead handed him a piece of paper and said his dad had already signed it and authorized the questioning. But the teen’s stepfather was in Detroit, unaware of the death or his son’s legal predicament, the Commercial Appeal reports.

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Juvenile Court Receives $1 Million for Upgrades

After debate over a budget increase request, the Shelby County Commission has approved more than $1 million to give to the juvenile courts after the U.S Department of Justice found problems with discrimination and children not being given their constitutional rights, WREG reports. The state is also giving $1 million. The commission also approved $300,000 to pay for the monitors who will come down from the DOJ to inspect and make sure the county is following orders. Although all don't agree, Commissioner Terry Roland says “the reason why we’re in this situation is because the pool of lawyers over there are mad they’re only making $40 an hour."

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State Takes Tough Stand on Human Trafficking

Tennessee is credited with developing one of the most comprehensive anti-human trafficking programs in the nation, WKRN reports. Survivors and advocates against trafficking gathered at a conference in Nashville on Thursday, where they shared their stories and applauded Tennessee for taking a tougher stand. The state’s new laws create harsher penalties on traffickers and extend the window of time for prosecutors to pursue cases. Furthermore, authorities will be able to prosecute people paying for sex as traffickers.

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Haslam Names Henry Permanent DCS Chief

Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed Jim Henry, the temporary head of the troubled Department of Children's Services (DCS), as the department’s new permanent director. He will take office on June 1, WBIR News 10 reports. Henry, who has continued to serve as commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) during the interim period will be replaced there by Debra Payne, a deputy commissioner. Read more about the Henry and Payne appointments in the governor's announcement.

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Conference on Human Trafficking Set for May 23

A workshop on combating human trafficking and modern-day slavery in the mid-south will be held May 23 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Rhodes College in Memphis. The training session is designed for service providers, medical professionals, religious leaders, translators, law enforcement, immigrant advocates or anyone concerned about the growing problem of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation. The event will be held in the McCallum Ballroom, located at 2000 N. Parkway. A fee of $15 covers all materials and lunch. For more information email Bonnie Blair or call her at (901) 752-0328.

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Drink Some Coffee for CASA

Do you love drinking coffee and want to support Tennessee CASA at the same time? Then visit the group’s Just Love Coffee Roasters online store. Just Love Coffee Roasters is a brand of hand-roasted coffee produced by people who also have a desire to help others in their efforts to make the world better. A portion of the proceeds from purchases will go directly to Tennessee CASA.

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Putnam County to Consider Family Justice Center

District Attorney Randall York received approval from the Putnam County Fiscal Review Committee to apply for a three-year, $80,000-per-year Family Justice Center grant that would help fund a Family Justice Center, a domestic violence center to assist victims in Putnam and surrounding counties. York cited the criminal court docket to support why a Family Justice Center should be started, the Herald Citizen reports. “When you go to a docket that’s more than 50 percent domestic-related, what we’re trying to do is break the cycle of violence, and we can only do it if we address the problems head on.” he said.

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Judge: 'Balls Dropped' in Child Deaths

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy said at a hearing Friday that after seeing case files of children who died as a result of abuse and neglect, it was clear that Department of Children's Services (DCS) social workers should have done more to protect the children. "There have been balls dropped by several individuals," she said in releasing 42 records of cases of children who died or nearly died after being under the supervision of DCS. McCoy also gave the state until May 31 to release records on 50 additional cases. Knoxnews has the story.

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Fewer Memphis Juveniles Tried as Adults

More juveniles charged with crimes are being given a chance to turn their lives around, instead of being transferred to adult court. Since 2009, the number of juveniles charged as adults has declined each year, with 29 transfers so far this year compared to 99 last year. The Commercial Appeal reports that the decrease corresponds to the U.S. Department of Justice’s three-year probe into allegations of civil rights and due process violations at Shelby County Juvenile Court.

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DCS Can’t Produce 8 Child Death Records

The Department of Children’s Services announced last week it could only produce 42 of the court-ordered release of 50 records of children who died leading up to July 1, 2012. “There were eight case files in which no referral concerning the death of the child was made to the Department of Children’s Services and, therefore, the Department did not conduct any sort of investigation as to these deaths,” the DCS court filing said. DCS spokeswoman Molly Sudderth declined to answer any questions about why the records were unavailable, citing the ongoing litigation. The Tennessean has the story.

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Shelby Juvenile Court Battling for Budget Hike

Shelby County commissioners appear reluctant to grant the Juvenile Court’s request for a $1.6 million budget increase, the Commercial Appeal reports. Meeting Wednesday night, commissioners questioned the need for the increase that court officials say is necessary to fund measures required to be in compliance with a memorandum of agreement reached between the court, the county mayor’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice. Larry Scroggs, the court’s CAO and general counsel, said “We have been told we cannot safely operate a detention facility without having the mental health and medical comprehensive care. So what do we do? That is a huge issue."

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