A Look at Juvenile Court

Dan H. MichaelLast night saw a fascinating glimpse into Memphis’ juvenile court system given by Chief Magistrate Dan H. Michael at the monthly Midtown Republican Club meeting.

Michael, who will run for reelection next year, warned us, “You had better hope you have a judge who knows what they are doing in juvenile court.” While most of us probably won’t be going before him, what his department does will matter to everything that happens in the future in Shelby County. “We are fighting a battle that is in its third generation,” he says. In the county, “crime is down, violent crime is down, but juvenile violent crime is on the rise,” he cautions.

“Our juvenile court is the third largest in the nation. We have a $17 million budget, handle 60,000 cases a year and have 254 employees. We do custody battles, we have ten magistrates and four do child support. Did you know we have a detention system with 173 rooms in which six juveniles are charged with first degree murder and three with second degree murder? We have a 14-year-old who shot another 14-year-old who is in critical condition. We have 18 children charged with aggravated robbery. Of 15 today, 12 had loaded weapons and two with aggravated assault had knives. Some have done some really horrible things.

“Most have raised themselves. The vast majority are African American. We run a hospital next to the jail with doctors, psychiatrists and nurses. The feds require all these free services and we handle all the child support services.”

With this much at stake, who wins positions in Juvenile Court has a lot of responsibility and needs a lot of experience, Michael pointed out.

Next: the explosion of gangs here and the dubious distinction Memphis has.

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