Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Policy Position 6: Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities

In nearly every state, at all decision points, in every juvenile offense category—person, property, drug, and public order—youth of color often receive harsher sentences and fewer services than white youth who have committed the same category of offenses. [1]  Confidential youth surveys show that during adolescence, youth of all races and ethnicities become involved in delinquent behaviors with only modest differences in the frequency and severity of their lawbreaking. Yet African-American youth are arrested at dramatically higher rates than white youth for all types of crime. Once arrested, they are more likely to be detained, formally charged in juvenile court, placed in a locked correctional facility, waived to adult court, and incarcerated in an adult facility.[2]

Jurisdictions can significantly reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their juvenile justice systems. They can use data to detect disparate treatment. They can eliminate subjectivity from decision-making with objective screening instruments. Risk assessments and alternatives to detention can help reduce the disproportionate share of children of color in the justice system. When risk assessment tools help ensure that only high-risk youth are incarcerated, and judges have alternatives to detention, children of color are treated more fairly, the public is safer, and the community has lower incarceration rates. Jurisdictions can develop culturally competent programming, create a system of non-secure graduated sanctions for youth, and employ mechanisms to divert youth of color from secure confinement.

1 “In most jurisdictions, disproportionate juvenile minority representation is not limited only to secure confinement; it is evident at nearly all contact points on the juvenile justice system continuum.” Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. OJJDP In Focus: Disproportionate Minority Contact. Available at: www.ojjdp.gov/pubs/239457.pdf. Last accessed Oct. 22, 2014. See also, Puzzanchera, Charles. Juvenile Court Statistics 2011. Available at: www.ncjj.org/pdf/jcsreports/jcs2011.pdf (showing that youth of color are more likely to be referred to the courts, detained, and sent to out-of-home placements).   

2 Annie E. Casey Foundation. A Road Map for Juvenile Justice Reform. p. 16. Available at: http://www.aecf.org/~/media/publicationfiles/aec180essay_booklet_mech.pdf. Last accessed May 6, 2014.

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