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Merrick Garland, U.S. attorney general, speaks during an address at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22, 2021. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Eleven members of Congress on Wednesday sent a letter urging the Department of Justice to investigate the juvenile justice system in Rutherford County, Tennessee, ProPublica reports.

Driving the news: "Tennessee’s children deserve to enjoy their childhoods without the fear of being unjustly searched, detained, charged, and imprisoned," the lawmakers wrote in the letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

  • The letter is based on reporting by ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio detailing how Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system has illegally arrested and detained children for years.

The big picture: Reporting revealed that the judicial commissioners' office in Rutherford charged 10 children for "criminal responsibility for conduct of another" for allegedly witnessing other children in a fight and not stopping it — a charge that does not exist, per ProPublica.

  • Reporting also showed that in 2014, the last year that Tennessee published data on how many kids were jailed in cases decided in juvenile court, Rutherford County detained nearly 10 times the state average.
  • In June of this year, the county agreed to pay up to $11 million to settle a lawsuit brought by children alleging they were illegally arrested or jailed, according to ProPublica.

What they're saying: "In addition, we are requesting the DOJ take additional steps to encourage Tennessee to provide comprehensive, up-to-date statistics regarding the arresting, detaining, and sentencing of minors by state and county officials," the lawmakers write.

  • "Beyond violating their due process, the policies pursued by Rutherford County, which include solitary confinement, weaken children’s mental health and life outcomes."
  • "We urge you to investigate Rutherford County’s juvenile justice system, support public access to relevant data and court filings, and encourage Tennessee to strengthen requirements for judicial commissioners."

Of note: Last week, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) also called for a review of the county's juvenile justice system.

  • "We are concerned about the recent reports and believe the appropriate judicial authorities should issue a full review,” Lee’s press secretary, Casey Black, said, according to Nashville Public Radio.

Go deeper

Dec 4, 2021 - Health

Pfizer could have vaccine data for children under five by end of 2021, CEO says

A health care worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine to a child at a Salvation Army vaccination clinic in Philadelphia on Nov. 12. Photo: Hannah Beier/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pfizer could have data on COVID-19 vaccine efficacy for children under five by the end of the year, CEO Albert Bourla said on Friday in an interview with NBC News.

Why it matters: Omicron has raised concerns that young children are becoming more vulnerable to the virus. Tshwane, the epicenter of South Africa's Omicron outbreak, has seen a high number of hospital admissions for children under two in the last few weeks, though scientists have not confirmed a link to the variant, Reuters reports.

Women politicians are under siege

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Kevin Dietsch, Stefani Reynolds, and Alex Wong/Getty Images

Women in Congress feel besieged and singled-out amid surging threats against lawmakers at all levels, with some frustrated more hasn't been done to halt the trend.

Why it matters: As record numbers of American women are being elected to public office, their growing political power is being met with death and rape threats, sexist and racist abuse and online disinformation. Collectively, it's discouraged women from running for office.

New report hits DOJ over lack of police shooting data

Demonstrations followed the shooting of Dijon Kizzee by Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies in 2020. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

A new government accountability report says the Department of Justice failed to consistently publish an annual summary of police excessive force data from 2016 to 2020, as required by federal law.

Why it matters: The data is crucial for the DOJ to monitor excessive force cases, and used to investigate law enforcement agencies with patterns of abuse. The DOJ can pivot off it to pursue court action to force reforms.