The Department of Justice has found that St. Louis County consistently violates the constitutional rights of the low-income juveniles in its family court system, the Associated Press reports.
The report, issued by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division following a 20-month investigation, also found that young black defendants received systematically worse treatment than their white peers.
For example, there’s only one juvenile public defender tasked with representing every low-income juvenile in the entire county—which comprises the Missouri suburbs of St. Louis, but not the city itself. The New York Times says that this one defender handled 394 cases last year alone. The Times also notes that many young people are encouraged to confess—which violates their right against self-incrimination—in order to receive a warning and avoid formal legal proceedings.
Not every young person in St. Louis County’s family court system is encouraged to take this literal get-out-of-jail-free card, however unconstitutional it might be. The Times reports that black defendants were 47 percent more likely than their white counterparts to enter formal legal proceedings—and that’s far from the only piece of evidence indicating racial bias in the investigation’s findings.
This isn’t the first time that the Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the law and order of St. Louis County.
Prompted by the killing of Michael Brown and the weeks of civil unrest that followed, the DOJ began investigating the Ferguson Police Department in September of last year. The report, issued in March, found that the city’s police department and municipal court unfairly targeted black residents with revenue-generating practices and other forms of systematic abuse.