For the first time ever, the U.S. Department of Justice has entered an agreement with a juvenile court in Shelby County, Tennessee to better protect the constitutional rights of young people there. In an unprecedented effort to reform the juvenile court in the county where Memphis is located, Sandra Simkins, a clinical professor at the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, has been named a due process monitor.
“This is a very exciting time in juvenile justice,” says Simkins, who created and directs the Rutgers Children's Justice Clinic, the first clinic at the law school to focus on children, and chairs clinical programs. “This is a tremendous opportunity to reform one system and for it to be a model for others.”
Based on findings from a three-year investigation in Shelby County’s juvenile justice system, the U.S. Department of Justice harnessed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to issue an in-depth memorandum of agreement. The 42-page document provides steps over the course of two years to protect the constitutional rights of children throughout their court proceedings and reduce racial disparities among similarly situated juveniles.
According to Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, this agreement is designed to establish a pre-eminent juvenile court for Shelby County and will “serve as model for juvenile courts systems across the country.”
Required changes outlined in the agreement range from streamlining court procedures, like publishing court forms in Spanish and establishing more accurate transcripts, to Constitutional issues, like advising teenagers of their Miranda rights and holding hearings about teens’ custody in under 48 hours. A community board with at least two parents of impacted children has also been formed.
Author of the book When Kids Get Arrested, What Every Adult Should Know (Rutgers University Press, 2009), Simkins will serve as one of three monitors to report back on progress of this historic effort.
She spent 15 years working in criminal and juvenile defense, prior to joining the Rutgers faculty in 2006. A former assistant chief of the Juvenile Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, the Rutgers Law–Camden professor also co-directed the Northeast Region Juvenile Defender Center, providing consulting and training to children’s advocates in New Jersey, Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The MacArthur Foundation selected Simkins in 2008 to participate in the Models for Change Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network. Since creating the Children's Justice Clinic at Rutgers Law–Camden, she has been appointed to several New Jersey committees, including the Supreme Court Committee on Women in the Courts, the Camden Safer Cities Initiative, and Camden County's Steering Committee for the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.
A University of Delaware alumna, Simkins graduated from the Rutgers School of Law–Camden, where she now teaches juvenile law to second- and third-year students.
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Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan