Since joining Reclaiming Futures, I have listened to the open meetings of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice (FACJJ). Supported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), FACJJ (pronounced FAC Jay) members are individuals appointed to State Advisory Groups. Created in 2002, FACJJ members are responsible for having knowledge of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) and to encourage state compliance with the four core protections:
Blog: Disproportionate Minority Contact
Reasons why I am proud to write this blog post...
Reason 1: My former colleagues (and friends) at The University of Arizona, Southwest Institute for Research on Women (UA SIROW) (UA SIROW) have been leading the efforts on the national evaluation of Juvenile Drug Courts and Juvenile Drug Courts blended with Reclaiming Futures (JDC/RF). UA SIROW collaborated with Chestnut Health Systems and Carnevale Associates, LLC to implement a comprehensive evaluation that included data from Juvenile Drug Courts, Juvenile Drugs Courts blended with Reclaiming Futures, and non-justice related intensive adolescent outpatient programs. The purpose was to examine processes, outcomes, and costs.
We live in the information age. Reclaiming Futures sites and other jurisdictions engaged in similar focused reform efforts have access to information from multiple sources and disciplines such as: web-sites; journal articles, news; juvenile justice, behavioral health, psychology, sociology, education, social work, medicine and so on.
So how do we critically assess these sources of information? Let’s discuss by using an example.
Step into juvenile delinquency courts throughout the country, and you will usually find the number of children of color who appear there are far out of proportion to their numbers in the surrounding community. For decades, they have been over-represented (and treated more harshly for the same behavior as their non-Hispanic white counterparts) at every stage of the delinquency process – from arrest, to secure detention, confinement, and transfer to the adult system. The causes are varied and have often proved resistant to change.
However, in recent years, better data collection and analysis in many localities has helped spur the development of strategies to reduce disparities among youth in contact with the juvenile justice system. This work is paving the way for a more equitable juvenile justice system that will treat youth fairly regardless of their race or ethnicity.
The Racial-Ethnic Fairness section of the Resource Hub will provide you with an overview of salient issues and links to information on each approach, as well as the most recent research, cutting edge reforms, model policies, best practices, links to experts, and toolkits to take action.
The Center for Public Integrity recently posted a story about throwaway kids--kids that have been expelled by their schools and placed in alternative forms of education--examining the complex balance between discipline and education.
The piece focuses on independent study students, many of whom are required to meet with teachers once a week for four and a half hours and are assigned work to complete, at home, until their next meeting. For many critics, independent study seems like taking a step back.
“You take a kid who has already demonstrated that he’s not being successful in conventional school, and then you impose on him the duty that he’s going to self-study, to me that just seems insane,” said Tim McKinley, an attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA), a legal aid group.
Another concern is the rate at which minorities are expelled from Kern County, which is eerily similar to disproportionate minority contact in the juvenile justice system. In the 2009-2010 school year, Kern’s Bakersfield High School expelled:
- 29 percent of black students (15 percent of the high school’s population)
- 43 percent of Latino students (29 percent of the high school’s population)
A recent article in The Atlantic points out that US incarceration rates are extremely high compared to those of other nations, especially for black men. But jails and prisons represent just one of many stages in the justice system where racial-ethnic disparity is a major problem, even for youth. Understanding why black and Latino adolescents experience greater risk of contact with the juvenile justice system is a difficult task. Future of Children author Alex Piquero argues that police play an important decision-making role in juvenile justice. Thus, careful examination of a youth's initial interaction with police may shed some light on the issue of minority contact.
One example of police contact is New York City's Stop-and-Frisk program. It has been practiced by the New York Police Department for decades, and many contend that it has helped keep guns off the street and lower the city's homicide rate. Some research shows evidence to support this argument, but the practice has nonetheless been met with heated debate and complaints of racial profiling. Indeed, a recent report by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that more than 86 percent of police stops in 2012 were of blacks or Latinos.
A recent assessment of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in Washington state reveals key areas to address as well as standout practices in the pursuit of a more fair and equal juvenile justice system.
For more than a decade, states have been required to regularly assess DMC, unequal rates of minority contact with the justice system relative to the population. The goal is to identify problem areas so that youth in the juvenile justice system are provided with treatment not based on race and ethnicity.
The 2013 report highlights a number of promising practices, first and foremost two programs: the Annie E. Casey Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative and the MacArthur Foundation Models for Change Initiative. These identification and reduction efforts are credited with changes to policies and practices that likely reduce disproportionality. To realize such success, the report stresses the importance of a multi-pronged strategy that considers practice and policy change, community engagement, data analysis and interpretation, program implementation and trainings.
Other promising practices for DMC identification and reduction noted include efforts to increase awareness of and action about DMC; programs to provide alternatives to arrest by providing youth with culturally-relevant and community-based services; and evidence-based behavioral health programs for youth in juvenile justice.
The assessment also emphasizes the following findings regarding DMC in-state, which may prove applicable in other communities:
Data accumulated over a two year period revealed interesting trends in minority youth contact with law enforcement and in the detention of juveniles in Kansas – data that researchers are sharing with the general population across Kansas with the goal to “change the mentality of the system.”
That challenge, issued by former state Representative Melody McCray-Miller of Wichita, came at one of a series of community forums held to share the preliminary findings of researchers from Nebraska who compiled the Kansas State Disproportionate Minority Assessment.
Dr. Elizabeth Neeley (pictured left), director of the Nebraska Minority Justice Committee, and Dr. Mitch Herian of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, are traveling across Kansas to educate on the disparities in how minority youth are represented in the state’s juvenile justice system.
Of Kansans ages 10-17 who are considered “at risk,” African-Americans experience much higher arrest rates, and African-Americans and Hispanics are both significantly over-represented in detention facilities. The goal of this study, Neeley said, is to identify trends and then seek solutions to preventable problems.
Dr. Callie Burt, assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, recently published a report with her colleagues, Ronald L. Simons and Frederick X. Gibbons, linking racial discrimination with criminal behavior. The paper, Racial Discrimination, Ethnic-Racial Socialization, and Crime, reported that experiencing more racial discrimination was linked to a higher risk of crime, specifically in African-American males.
Burt set out to take another look at racism in interpersonal violence and crime to answer the question, what is it about racist actions that can cause an increased risk of crime later in life? She found that racial discrimination primarily does four things to individuals:
A new article from the New York Law School Law Review examines the problems with the juvenile justice system and offers solutions for a more productive youth justice system. “When the Cure Makes You Ill: Seven Core Principles to Change the Course of Youth Justice,” calls the extremity of youth justice to trial and shares statistics of the negative effects the system has on children.
Our current juvenile justice system is “iatrogenic,” says author Gabrielle Prisco. Being in the system worsens outcomes for troubled teens and more often than not, results in violence and recidivism -- the very same outcome it tries to remedy.
Prisco outlines seven core principles to change the course of youth justice:
Principle One: Treat Children as Children
Research shows children lack critical thinking skills and the ability to fully understand risk management. “The region of the brain that is the last to develop is the one that controls many of the abilities that govern goal-oriented, ‘rational’ decision-making, such as long-term planning, impulse control, insight, and judgment,” writes Prisco. Children who are incarcerated in an adult jail are thirty-six times more likely to commit suicide because they are not properly cared for in a youth facility, yet thirty-nine states in the United States presently allow juveniles to be tried in adult court and sentenced to life without the chance of parole (JLWOP).
The U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ) Civil Rights Division's recent investigation of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee is a "must read" for youth justice advocates, especially as it relates to racial and ethnic disparities and the prosecution of youth in adult criminal court.
The DOJ's extensive investigation, which began nearly three years ago, found a failure to provide adequate due process protections for children before transferring them to adult criminal court and racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children. The report shows that an African-American child is twice as likely as a white child to be recommended for transfer to adult court. Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, approximately one half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American.
“This report is a step toward our goal of improving the juvenile court, increasing the public’s confidence in the juvenile justice system, and maintaining public safety,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at a press conference when the report was released. “Upholding the constitutional rights of children appearing before the court is necessary to achieve these ends. The department will work with Memphis leadership to create a comprehensive blueprint that will create sustainable reforms in the juvenile justice system.”
A number of racial discrepancies were found among Michigan’s juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) population in a new report released by the American Civil Liberties Union in conjunction with Second Chances 4 Youth. The state’s JLWOP population is the second highest in the nation trailing Pennsylvania.
The report, Basic Decency: An Examination of Natural Life Sentences for Michigan Youth, analyzes Michigan’s juvenile justice system and was overseen by lawyer Deborah LaBelle, director of the Juvenile Life Without Parole Initiative.
On average, juveniles charged with murder were 22 percent less likely to receive plea offers if the victim were white rather than African-American, the report states. Additionally, the researchers say the makeup of youths serving life sentences within Michigan are heavily skewed towards racial minorities, who constitute almost three- quarters of the state’s JLWOP population despite representing only 29 percent of the state’s total juvenile population.
Our friends at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) spent this week at the Kids Behind Bars: Where's the Justice in America's Juvenile Justice System? conference in New York, discussing the juvenile justice system and the role of the media in reporting facts (good) and sensationalizing stories (bad).
Their takeaways are relevant for journalists and bloggers but also for readers of this blog, many of whom work with(in) the juvenile system. During day 1 of the John Jay Symposium, speakers discussed:
- the now discounted superpredator theory from the 1990s and the role of the press in perpetuating it
- research findings showing that the human brain does not reach full maturity until the mid-20s
- the importance of mentoring
- disproportionate minority contact
- school discipline policies
- juvenile justice reform efforts
Alexa Gonzalez, a 12 year old student in New York City, never imagined that an average day at school would turn into her being handcuffed. The schoolgirl was caught scribbling on her desk “I love my friends Abby and Faith” by her Spanish teacher and was immediately taken to the principal office where the police was called. She was then handcuffed, tried in family court, found guilty, had to do community service, write an essay about lessons learned from the incident and ultimately suspended from school.
Similar events are occurring all over the country as confirmed by the U.S. Department of Education that released statistics showing that minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, are being suspended and/or arrested for the same minor offenses over their White counterparts.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released a study documenting disproportionality in rates of suspensions and expulsions in public schools across the United States.
The report, which covered 72,000 schools across the United States, states that African-Americans only make up 18 percent of youth at the studied schools, but 35 percent of students suspended once and 39 percent of those expelled.
These findings mirror one aspect of a Texas study released last year, which found that African-American students in Texas were 31 percent more likely to be disciplined in school, at least once, than otherwise identical Caucasian or Hispanic students.
Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looked at these findings and deduced that this highlights the need for increased school choice. Just as importantly, it highlights another education reform priority – the overcriminalization of students of all races.
As zero tolerance policies have increased in both scope and consequences (now covering fish oil dietary supplements, asthma inhalers, oregano, and butter knives), more and more minor misbehavior spurs referrals to the justice system or triggers suspensions, when it previously would have been handled through parental involvement or traditional disciplinary methods, such as a visit to the principal’s office, after-school detention, or requiring the student to perform school or community service.
New data from the Department of Education finds that black males face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students. These findings validate what many activists have been saying for awhile: that there is increasingly a school-to-prison pipeline for students of color.
From the New York Times:
Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.
“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”
"How can a judge turn a child into an adult?" That's a question lawyer Bryan Stevenson has spent years asking. Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group providing legal representation to communities that have been marginalized by poverty and discouraged by unequal treatment.
Stevenson was invited to speak at TED2012, an annual conference showcasing big thinkers and doers throughout the world. He spent his 20 minutes discussing the power of identity, the dire need to reduce inequalities (including disproportionate minority contact), the injustice of juvenile life without parole sentences and mass incarceration. In his own words:
Here's an excerpt from the TED Blog:
A recent report by the W. Haywood Burns Institute indicates that while California’s current corrections policies appear to be race-neutral, data shows that many young people of color are being incarcerated at higher rates than white youth for non-criminal acts rather than being treated for mental health and behavioral health needs. The report, titled “Non-Judicial Drivers into the Juvenile Justice System for Youth of Color,” highlights multiple studies that point to the same conclusion:
“Using locked cells to change the behaviors of teenagers is ineffective, expensive, and more likely to increase crime.”
The Burns Institute highlights the “non-judicial drivers” that result in high rates of incarceration among youth of color. An example of a non-judicial driver is school referrals for disorderly conduct accounting for 40 percent of annual juvenile arrests in California. The authors also highlight cases where low-risk youth with high mental health needs are placed in long-term detention with no treatment of the underlying trauma that is contributing to their delinquent behavior.
George Timberlake retired five years ago as an Illinois judge, and now he's convinced he was doing it all wrong.
"I put kids in jail at a higher rate than almost anybody," he recently told the Henderson Rotary Club. "I thought that was the right way to do things."
But when he "turned around and looked at what I had been doing," he said, he came to the conclusion that "we were just greasing the skids" for youngsters' path downhill to adult prison.
When it comes to kids, he said, "jail doesn't help. There is no evidence that ... incarceration changes behavior. None." The key instead, he said, is to evaluate the kid's risk of fleeing the jurisdiction or not appearing in court when sentencing jail time.
Timberlake is now chairman of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission, and as such he is helping lead the nation out of the dark ages of juvenile justice. The "Redeploy Illinois" program hands out state money to communities who are able to reduce their number of incarcerated juveniles.
"You solve their problems, you link them with services, and you have a dollar bill that pays for it. That works. It makes you safer, it saves more tax dollars and it's a better outcome for kids."