Justice Department plans to sue Shelby County Jail then drop the suit.
By Mary Cashiola
The Department of Justice is expected to file a lawsuit sometime in the next month against the Shelby County Jail. As soon as they file it, they'll ask that it be immediately dismissed.
Representatives from the Justice Department met with Shelby County officials last week to discuss and finalize an agreement to bring the jail up to constitutional compliance. Last week, county lawyer Donnie Wilson told the Flyer that the issues include treatment of the mentally ill, medical attention for all inmates, and sanitary conditions.
"The Department of Justice has some of the same concerns that the federal court was talking about," says Wilson. "We've already started to address those, and we rectified many of them as a result of the court action."
The jail has been under a federal court order to improve conditions, specifically inmate-on-inmate violence, since a 1996 rape case. The Justice Department began looking at the jail in the summer of 2000 and has focused more on medical services and inmate health.
"The court has noted we've made tremendous progress," says Wilson. "We're beginning to see the light of day."
It's due to that progress that the Justice Department is willing to file the lawsuit and then ask for it to be dismissed. The county will work to rectify the things the department sees as unconstitutional conditions under the agreement. If they don't, the Justice Department will come back and renew the action.
County criminal justice coordinator Bill Powell says that the Justice Department will require a 100-day report in the beginning and, after that, semiannual reports. The department will also continue to monitor the jail for one year after they reach compliance.
"It's a fairly positive thing," says Powell. "The conditions in the jail are such that the Justice Department did not have to pursue it formally."
During last week's discussions, the sticking points in the agreement were mostly over terminology and phrasing. The Justice Department also wanted to establish some new time frames that were not in the earlier draft. n
Flyer writer is honored for music criticism.
Chris Herrington, music critic for The Memphis Flyer, brought home a third-place award in music criticism from the Association of Alternative Newspapers (AAN). The 2002 Alternative Newsweekly Awards were presented June 1st during the AAN's annual convention in Madison, Wisconsin.
Herrington won for a series of articles that examined the work of such diverse artists as Smokey Robinson, R. Kelly, Clem Snide, and the Ass Ponys. Judges observed, "Of all the entries, his writing best fits the definition of music 'criticism.' He dissects a range of genres (R&B/hip hop, indie rock, and Motown pop), balancing his own fresh perspective with cultural context. His style is very conversational. His pieces, while packed with information and context, never feel like history or art lessons."
Other music-criticism winners in the under-54,000-circulation category were Gambit Weekly and The Texas Observer.
The AAN awards recognize superior journalism and graphic design among the 120 member alternative newsweeklies in the U.S and Canada. n
Mongo Moves East
Robert Hodges, perhaps better known as Prince Mongo, has relocated his royal palace (home) to the Colonial Acres neighborhood in East Memphis.
His new home on the southwest corner of Park and Colonial features -- among other attractions -- a moose head peering from an upper window, orange and black penants drapped across the porch, mannequin heads perched atop poles in the bushes, and even a "bean poll" in the front yard. Passersby who wish to answer the question "What's the one thing that no true Southerner can stand?" can drop a bean into a pail for "a mayor who works only for the rich, a sheriff who does nothing but steal, or a city council who is lead [sic] by fellons [sic]."
With amenities like these, we can see the neighborhood block president cringing at the thought of property values plummeting into a dark abyss. n
-- Janel Davis
MCS Dresses Up
School board votes on student uniforms.
By Mary Cashiola
Capri pants, cargo pants, and bell-bottoms are out. Next year's fashion prediction for Memphis City Schools students: the preppy look.
With most of the MCS board members dressed in their matching denim MCS shirts, the board voted 8-1 in favor of the new school uniform and dress-code policy. The basic uniform for all 117,000 students is tan, navy blue, or black pants with a white polo or dress shirt.
"We thought the school board could show the community that we're not asking them to do anything we're not willing to do ourselves," said Commissioner Patrice Robinson of the board's coordinated ensembles. She added that they will be wearing the official uniform during the first board meeting in August.
Three community members spoke up about the proposal. Two were in favor. Eric Gottlieb was not.
"The uniform policy represents a tax on Memphis City School parents," he said, adding that parents must still buy clothing for their children to wear after school and on weekends. He asked that there be a broad opt-out clause included in the policy.
As written and approved, the policy states that any parents who don't want their child to wear the uniform because of religious or other deeply held beliefs will have to file a written request with the school's principal. MCS says the policy does not prevent students from exercising their First Amendment right to freedom of expression, such as wearing political buttons.
Each school will be able to decide on the specifics of its own uniform. Commissioner Prescott hoped that those schools that wanted to use school colors would try to make that decision before the school year so parents didn't have to buy two different uniforms in two consecutive years.
But even though the board, as well as most of the audience, seemed in favor of the proposal, personal senses of style kept sneaking into the discussion. As soon as the board moved for adoption of the policy, one audience member yelled out loudly, "No white polo!"
Even board members themselves made a few personal comments.
"I think capri pants are nice," said Prescott, adding that they are a good alternative to shorts. Commissioner Sara Lewis said, "Some of our little boys who are husky look a little better in cargo pants." Neither cargo pants nor capri pants are permitted in the policy.
Lewis was one of the board members who did not wear the matching denim shirt. She chose instead to wear a green MCS polo, stating that she did so because denim was not allowed in the policy. Hubon "Dutch" Sandridge, the only dissenting vote to the uniform policy, wore an olive suit.
"We want to take the focus off what's on their back," said Commissioner Wanda Halbert, "and put it back what we need desperately for it to be on: student achievement."
Teachers' attire may be next. Halbert asked that all teachers show their support for the children by voluntarily wearing the uniform. Superintendent Johnnie B. Watson said he would be talking to the teachers' union about a uniform for them.
In other news, the board discussed whether transportation is actually a professional service. The Tennessee Department of Transportation considers transporting humans a professional service, but according to another state definition, a professional service is a "unique or creative talent." MCS commissioners were concerned that school transportation services would not be bid out if they were not considered a professional service.