Blog: Racial Disparity

Talking About Addiction

On June 1, 2016, our Reclaiming Futures national executive director Evan Elkin spoke at Red Emma's in Baltimore for Open Society Institute-Baltimore's second event in their "Talking About Addiction" series. Elkin was accompanied on the panel by Dr. Hoover Adger from Johns Hopkins Children's Center and by Carin Callan Miller, who founded Save Our Children Peer Family Support. The conversation was moderated by Scott Nolen, director of OSI-Baltimore's Drug Addiction Treatment Program. A full room of community members joined them for the evening, including families affected by adolescent addiction.

Youth, Addiction and the Juvenile Justice System

Whereas the first "Talking About Addiction" event explored alternative law enforcement approaches to addiction, this event focused on youth, addiction, and the juvenile justice system. Despite public acknowledgment of the failures of the "War on Drugs," and an increased understanding of addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, OSI-Baltimore recognizes that research and policy around adolescent addiction are slow to reach the mainstream. Indeed, during the discussion, some attendees expressed frustration with how long addiction treatment reform is taking; OSI moderator Nolen suggested reassurance that the addiction paradigm is finally shifting.

Juvenile Felony Arrest Rates in California Display Staggering Racial Disparities

Racial disparity is a longstanding issue in the juvenile justice system. Since 2000, there have been countless studies reporting staggering differences in the treatment of juvenile offenders by race. Using comprehensive data from Kidsdata.org, The Chronicle of Social Change recently examined the racial breakdown of juvenile felony arrest rates across California from 1998 – 2012:

kidsdata.org

Key findings:

  • In 2007, 50.9 per 1,000 African-American youths were arrested for juvenile felonies, compared to the Latino rate of 15.5 and the white rate of 10.4.
  • In 2012, the juvenile felony arrest rate (per 1,000) for African American youths was 34.2, compared to the Latino rate of 9.1 and the white rate of 6.1.

While there is still a large gap between African-American, Latino and white youths, the 2012 statistics do show improvement in that the arrest rates for all youth have declined.

Using the interactive tools on Kidsdata.org, you can search results for each county in California.

Note: Every other week, The Chronicle of Social Change examines a new aspect of health and well being of children in California using information from Kidsdata.org.

Graph from kidsdata.org website

Juvenile Justice Resource Hub Launches New Section to Cover Racial-Ethnic Fairness

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) recently launched a new section of its Resource Hub on racial disparities in the juvenile justice system. Via the website:

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.

7 Core Principles to Change the Course of Youth Justice

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). 

Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline

The Children's Defense Fund released the State of America's Children 2012 Handbook last month, an annual compilation of national data on child well-being, as well as its Portrait of Inequality which focuses on the state of the most vulnerable black and Latino children and youth in America. While the snapshots are sobering for both populations, the report on black children outlines a stunning set of statistics that paint the contours of CDF's theory: that black children are fed into a Cradle to Prison Pipeline at higher rates than any other group.
There is quite a bit of work that has been done on the school-to-prison pipeline - a confluence of forces, including zero tolerance policies that push disadvantaged children out of school and in into the criminal justice system. CDF's Cradle to Prison theory argues that black children and youth not only face multiple risks, but that from birth and throughout childhood and adolescence, confront debilitating obstacles that often push them into premature death, prison, and failed lives. Some black children face an entire childhood of hardship and stressors that many adults could not withstand, and ultimately fall into an "abyss of poverty, hunger, homelessness and despair".
Hmm, you might think, could they be overstating this? You may even consider black children that you know who have overcome tremendous odds and achieved success - proving that some can climb their way out of the morass of disadvantage that so easily entangles. However, CDF's report is not a collection of assertions, but rather a fact-based siren warning that an unacceptably high percentage of black children will meet this fate if adults (you and me) don't figure out how to fix things.

REPORT: “Boys Will Be Boys” (Unless They’re Black, In Which Case Lock them Up)

In “Criminalizing Normal Adolescent Behavior in Communities of Color: The Role of Prosecutors in Juvenile Justice Reform,” Kristin N. Henning focuses on the disparity of treatment of youth when race is a factor.
Youth have long held special status in the justice system. Teens tend to make questionable decisions which can lead to very negative outcomes, due to their difficulty weighing both short and long-term consequences. But, via the report:

As youth mature, they age out of delinquent behavior and rarely persist in a life of crime. Because children and adolescents are more malleable and amenable to rehabilitation than adults, the Supreme Court has recognized youth as a mitigating factor in the disposition of even the most serious criminal behavior by adolescents.