Racism Of The Juvenile Justice System Revealed

Nell Bernstein, New America Media, Jan 15, 2007

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[A] new report released today by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) challenges the assumption that black and brown children are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system simply because they commit more crime.

“And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Youth of Color in the Justice System,” describes in painstaking detail why, in far greater proportion than whites, youths of color enter the criminal justice system. NCCD researchers found differential treatment at every step of the criminal justice process. For instance, youths of color are more likely to be picked up and detained by police.

Among the finding from the NCCD report:

o African-American youths are 4.5 times more likely, and Latinos 2.3 times more likely, than white youths to be detained for identical offenses.

o About half of white teenagers arrested on a drug charge go home without being formally charged and drawn into the system. Only a quarter of black teens arrested on drug charges catch a similar break.

o When charges are filed, white youths are more likely to be placed on probation while black youth are more likely to get locked up.

Unequal treatment didn’t stop upon entry into the juvenile justice system. NCCD researchers found that African-American youths are more likely than whites to be charged, tried, and incarcerated as adults. African Americans comprise 58 percent of youths charged and convicted as adults and sent to adult prisons.

The overall decline in crime rates over the past decade has not relieved the public’s worries about violent crime, and politicians know it, observed NCCD Executive Director Dr. Barry Krisberg. “The policy decision to ‘get tougher on crime’ makes it worse for youth of color, despite the reality that white youth commit the majority of serious crimes,” Krisberg says. “In the hysteria over youth gangs, children of color are much more likely to be swept up into the system. As black and brown youth on the streets say, ‘Justice means ‘just us.’”

Despite a decade of advocacy and reform efforts aimed at creating a more racially equitable juvenile justice system, Krisberg notes that racial disparities have persisted and even worsened. Krisberg and his colleagues began documenting racial disparities in juvenile justice in the mid-1980s. Amendments have been made to the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act that required states to study the problem and make “good faith” efforts to remedy it. The U.S. Department of Justice funded a major effort to reduce racial disparity, private philanthropy got on board, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation launched a major initiative aimed at reducing the number of children of color in detention facilities. Regardless, Krisberg says, this latest research reveals that despite these efforts to “control this entrenched, discriminatory tendency, the problem has only gotten worse.”

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Immediately, the two offered the new arrival a lesson in racial politics: “The blacks associate with blacks,” and “the southern Mexicans associate with the southern Mexicans, Chappelle says he was told. “It was all about racial bias—‘You can’t eat with these people, you can’t gamble with those.’”

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[Website editor’s notes: The full eport can be read here.

The NCCD press release can be read here.]

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