Juvenile Justice Fairness Questioned
Byline: Matt Cooper The Register-Guard
Minority advocates and Lane County officials met Thursday on the local version of a national problem: the disproportionately high number of minority youth in the juvenile justice system.
Few decisions were made, no solutions were approved and frustrations were voiced repeatedly. But given a history of distrust stretching back two decades, some saw the sit-down itself as a measure of progress.
Minority advocates have redoubled calls for action with the release last year of two reports critical of the county Department of Youth Services and its treatment of black and Latino offenders. Consultants retained by the department said a long-standing rift between the department and minority communities has prevented minority youth from getting mentoring and other services necessary to put them on a path for success.
The Department of Youth Services provides assessment, probation, training, counseling and detention services for youth ages 12 to 17 referred by local law enforcement for criminal behavior.
The vast majority of juvenile offenders in Lane County are white, and most of their crimes are property crimes, the county said.
But the number of minority youth who enter the juvenile court system - as opposed to having their cases dismissed or diverted to another process - is about twice the typical rate, department analyst Viriam Khalsa said, in a presentation to about 20 advocates and officials at the Lane County Juvenile Justice Center in Eugene.
Only a few dozen minority offenders were included in the trend last year, suggesting that the problem can be solved, Khalsa said.
But Native American advocates quickly challenged those numbers as too low, and department officials confirmed at the meeting that there could be as many as 70 additional minority offenders who aren't getting culturally specific services, because they cannot be compelled to identify their race, which is then classified as "unknown. …