Militant Journalism

Tennessee jail profits from incarcerating kids, deadline for settlement approaches

Over 1,400 people who were illegally jailed as juveniles at the Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee are now eligible to receive compensation from an $11 million class-action settlement. 

The Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center has been regarded in Rutherford County, Tenn., as a money-making institution for decades. All children who are charged with crimes in Rutherford County are processed at the facility. The detention center is a 64-bed facility that is well known for its brutal treatment of inmates, including children as young as seven years old. 

The $11 million class-action settlement stems from a 2017 lawsuit that was leveled against Rutherford County after a 2016 incident where 11 Black elementary school students were arrested for watching a fight at school. Six of the children were handcuffed and four were detained in the facility. The youth were charged with “criminal responsibility for conduct of another.” This charge was fabricated — such a crime has never existed in Tennessee law. The lawsuit accurately accused Rutherford County and the detention facility of incarcerating children as a result of minor and trumped-up offenses for profit.

Incarcerating children for profit

ProPublica reported that in 2014, 48% of youth who were referred to juvenile court in Rutherford County were eventually incarcerated. The state average for such incarcerations is just 5%. Judge Donna Scott Davenport presided over the illegal incarceration of the 11 Black youth in 2017, and she is responsible for jailing thousands of children during her tenure from 2000 to now. The detention facility has a contract with U.S. Marshals and 40 Tennessee counties to house children at $175 per day per child. 

To qualify for compensation, one must have been born on or after Oct. 14, 1997, and those eligible only have until October 29 of this year to complete the necessary paperwork to file for compensation.

As of Oct. 3, less than 200 people had filed a claim for compensation. About 700 people have contacted the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the lawsuit that resulted in the settlement in attempts to file claims for being incarcerated in the 1990s. However, those adults are ineligible to receive any money. 

Attorney Kyle Mothershead stated that the actual number of people who were illegally jailed in the detention center for such minor offenses as disobeying parents, school fights, and truancy since the early 1990s is in the thousands — far greater than the 1,400 who are eligible for settlement money.

As a result of the 2017 class-action lawsuit, eligible people can receive $1,000 per illegal arrest and $4,800 per incarceration. The original plaintiffs from the 2016 arrest will receive about $31,000.

Outrageously, the cop who signed off on the made-up charges of the 11 youth was only suspended for three days. Judge Davenport and the head of Rutherford County Juvenile Detention Center remain employed despite their clear involvement in the case.

No child should be incarcerated. All people who were childhood victims of illegal incarcerations should be well compensated and treated psychologically for their trauma. There should not be a statute of limitations for such crimes against youth or a deadline to file for compensation.

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