Racial Gap in Juvenile Arrests Called Wider

Brent Jones, Baltimore Sun, June 24, 2009

African-American children in Maryland are being arrested at a rate nearly three times higher than their white counterparts, a gap that continues to widen because of law enforcement practices and failures of school personnel to distinguish between delinquent behavior and children simply acting out, according to a report released Tuesday by a nonprofit group.

The study, conducted by Advocates for Children and Youth, is based on results of interviews with social service workers and information obtained from Maryland State Police from 2005 through 2008.

The report calculates the arrest rates for African-American and white children, and creates an index by dividing the two figures. An index of 1 would mean no difference in arrest rates between the two groups, while higher numbers show bigger discrepancies.

Maryland’s figure is 2.74, the report said, up from 2.6 a year earlier and up 25 percent since 2005.

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Joseph and other advocates say the reasons for the discrepancy begin at arrest, and that juveniles should be placed in an alternative environment rather than arrested if they show delinquent behavior. Steering them away from the criminal justice system, advocates say, would decrease the disparity.

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In schools, the study found, African-American students are more likely to be suspended than whites, creating a possible correlation between school-based behavior and juvenile arrests. The report suggests that school employees receive extensive training to distinguish between harmless acts and delinquent behavior.

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[Editor’s Note: The study “Racial Disparities Widen in Youth Arrests in Maryland” is available here.]

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