Washington State Assesses Disproportionate Minority Contact

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 quality for variables on race/ethnicity was less than satisfactory in many jurisdictions for many reasons, including data reporting systems limitations and confusion about varying definitions.
  • Cumulative disproportionality increases throughout the stages of justice system involvement, with the highest levels of disproportionality concentrated in the most serious decision points. However, incremental disproportionality (disproportionality occurring at specific decision points) was highest at the front end of the system—referral, diversion, and detention—and also very high at arrest.
  • Interviewees provided a wide variety of possible reasons for DMC, ranging from multi-systemic contextual factors like poverty and socioeconomic correlates, institutionalized racism and conscious or unconscious bias, policies and procedures, access to services and support, gangs, and many other explanations, with most believing DMC was the result of not one but several interacting, amplifying factors.

Based on these results, the authors made the following overall recommendations:

  1. Increase the number of jurisdictions with a sophisticated understanding of DMC.
  2. Verify the validity and reliability of data collected on race/ethnicity.
  3. Work to increase buy-in and ownership (belief that it is their responsibility to endeavor to address DMC) across all stakeholder groups.
  4. Build cross-system coalitions within each jurisdiction to address DMC reduction efforts, or integrate DMC reduction efforts with an existing group.
  5. Strengthen efforts to involve communities of color in the functioning of the justice system.
  6. Collaborate with tribes in appropriate jurisdictions.
  7. Implement and sustain changes to policies, practices, and procedures that may reduce disproportionality.
  8. Implement and sustain evidence-based behavioral health programs while increasing the enrollment of youth of color in these programs, focusing on access, effectiveness and relevance.
  9. Strengthen and coordinate statewide leadership on DMC reduction.

This assessment provides a clear message about the role of evidence-based practice, data, and coordinated, cross-system approaches in DMC reduction. These components will continue to be integral in working towards a more equal, effective juvenile justice system.
Read the full report here: Washington State Disproportionate Minority Contact Assessment.

Gabrielle Nygaard is a Digital and Social Media Intern at Prichard Communications, where she assists on several accounts, including Reclaiming Futures. She is a student at Linfield College studying Mass Communication and Japanese. She is an Oregon native and health enthusiast.

Updated: February 19 2013