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Minnesota Reports on Disproportionate Minority Contact in its Juvenile Justice System
by DAVID BACKES

Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs has been researching Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) in their state in order to better understand why minority youth have contact with the juvenile justice system at different rates than white youth. Their new report, “Disproportionate Minority Contact in Minnesota’s Juvenile Justice System,” is an exhaustive investigation measuring DMC in Minnesota, along with strategies for reducing it.

Disproportionate Minority Contact is often dismissed by people not involved with the juvenile justice system with the thought that minority youth commit more crimes than white youth. The data, however, suggests otherwise. Via the report:

While data suggest white youth and youth of color may have different rates of offending for some crimes, the levels of disparity observed are too great to be explained by differences in youth offending patterns alone. Furthermore, once youth of color are in the system, research reveals they receive harsher consequences than white youth with similar offenses and criminal histories.

The report continues with an explanation of why DMC may be occurring:

A host of factors potentially contribute to disparate rates of justice system contact for youth of color. These include the inequitable distribution of resources in communities, bias within the policies and practices of juvenile justice agencies, and underlying social conditions of communities, particularly poverty.

The report concludes with a list, Eight Lessons in DMC, included in full below (see pages 51-52 of the report):

Lesson 1: Disproportionality can occur at all contact points of the juvenile justice system. Moreover, what happens to youthful offenders during their initial contacts with the juvenile justice system influences their outcomes at the later stages.

Lesson 2: Many factors contribute to DMC at different juvenile justice system contact points, and a multi-pronged intervention is necessary to reduce disproportionality. DMC is the result of a number of complex decisions and events, and only through a comprehensive, balanced, and multidisciplinary approach can states and localities reduce DMC.

Lesson 3: Data are powerful, and DMC intervention strategies need to be data-based. Data are essential to determine whether minority youth come into contact at disproportionate rates with the juvenile justice system, at which decision points, and to what extent. States must further determine the factors/mechanisms that contribute to the observed disproportionality.

Lesson 4: DMC reduction requires support from the top. OJJDP must diligently enforce the core requirement by setting uniform standards in determining states’ DMC compliance status. At the state level, support from governors and state agencies can contribute to significant leadership and investment in DMC reduction activities.

Lesson 5: DMC reduction needs to occur at the local level. DMC reduction efforts must be based on data collected on the existence, extent and nature of DMC at the local level coupled with assessment of resource availability versus gaps. The result will be a locally developed, comprehensive DMC reduction plan.

Lesson 6: DMC reduction requires strong partnerships. DMC reduction requires a multidisciplinary approach with a partnership of all stakeholders, public and private, at the local, state, and federal levels.

Lesson 7: DMC reduction demands sustained efforts. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, states and localities must sustain the top-down and bottom-up support and establish horizontal and vertical partnerships to enable continuous DMC reduction efforts.

Lesson 8: Evidence-based DMC reduction efforts are scarce. The ultimate success of the DMC initiative is measured by the effectiveness of the DMC activities in reducing minority overrepresentation. Measuring or evaluating outcomes must be an integral part of all DMC reduction activities.

Similar to the work done by Reclaiming Futures, Minnesota’s Department of Public Safety Office of Justice Programs understands the importance of learning from data and employing evidence-based practices to help solve the problem. The goal is simple: make the justice system equal for all. Evidence-based practices are the way to get there.


juvenile-justice-system_David-BackesDavid Backes writes the Friday news roundup for Reclaiming Futures and contributes articles about juvenile justice reform and adolescent substance abuse treatment to ReclaimingFutures.org. He has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Santa Clara University. David works as an account executive for Prichard Communications.