Magazine article Poverty & Race

A Strategy for Dismantling Structural Racism in the Juvenile Delinquency System

Magazine article Poverty & Race

A Strategy for Dismantling Structural Racism in the Juvenile Delinquency System

Article excerpt

Juveniles of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be arrested, referred to juvenile court rather than diversion programs, waived to adult court, detained pre-trial and locked up at disposition.

In 2008, the Racial Justice Initiative of TimeBanks USA ("RJI")www.RacialJusticeInitiative.orgdeveloped a new social advocacy and litigation strategy focused on dismantling structural racism in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems as well as other public systems that affect vulnerable youth.

The data on the depth of the racial disparity and the resulting negative outcomes for youth of color have been well documented for years. This article provides some of the national data that underscore the extensive racial disparity that persists in the juvenile justice system. Second, the article will narrow the focus to Washington, DC, where the RJI is working more intensively in 2011 and beyond. Finally, the article sets forth how this strategy could be implemented to break through more than three decades of logjam on legal challenges to racial disparity in juvenile justice. Although Congress annually appropriates hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the racial disparity in juvenile justice, more than 35 years after enactment of the seminal juvenile delinquency prevention act, results in most jurisdictions are barely discernible.

National Arrest, Prosecution and Incarceration Rates Reveal Substantial Disproportionality

While young people of all races commit delinquent acts, some receive treatment while others are arrested, tunneled into the delinquency system, and too often, eventually incarcerated. According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, from 2002 to 2004, African Americans comprised only 16% of all youth in the United States, but constituted 28% of juvenile arrests; 30% of referrals to juvenile court; 37% of the detained population; 34% of youth formally processed by the juvenile court; 30% of adjudicated youth; 35% of youth judicially waived to adult criminal court; 38% of youth in residential placement; and 58% of youth admitted to state adult prison. There is incontrovertible evidence that race bias affects critical decisions leading to confinement, and that the consequences of this disparate treatment are devastating to juveniles of color.

Over the last 30 years, multiple studies have shown that disproportionate minority contact ("DMC") afflicts nearly every processing point in nearly every juvenile justice system in the country. In Michael J. Leiber' s article, "Disproportionate Minority Confinement of Youth: An Analysis of State and Federal Efforts to Address the Issue," he noted that 32 of 46 studies conducted by 40 states reported "race effects" - defined as "the presence of a statistically significant race relationship, with a case outcome that remains once controls for legal factors have been considered." When African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders constituted only 35% of the U.S. youth population, they comprised 65% of all youth who were securely detained preadjudication. Youth of color are four times more likely to be arrested for a drug trafficking offense, even though white teens' self-reported experiences of using and selling drugs are at rates greater than that of African- American teens. The length of incarceration compounds both the disparity and the injury inflicted; on average, AfricanAmerican and Latino juveniles are confined, respectively, 61 and 112 days longer than white youth. Additionally, as noted in a previous RJI publication- "An Offer They Can't Refuse: Racial Disparities in Juvenile Justice and Deliberate Indifference Meet Alternatives That Work, " "minorities account for more than 58% of youth admitted to state adult prisons."

In an attempt to eliminate DMC, federal law requires states that receive federal juvenile delinquency prevention funding to measure the rate of DMC at nine different decision points in the juvenile justice system: juvenile arrests; referral to juvenile court; cases diverted; cases involving secure detention; cases petitioned (charges filed); cases resulting in delinquent findings; cases resulting in probation placement; cases resulting in confinement in secure juvenile facilities; and, cases transferred to adult court. …

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