For more than 25 years, the U.S. Department of Justice has given hundreds of millions in grants to states to reduce the overrepresentation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, yet youth of color still appear in disproportionate numbers in many areas of the system.
According to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention analyzed by JJIE, black youth between the ages of 10 and 17 made up 17 percent of all children in that age group in 2010, but comprised 31 percent of all juvenile arrests, 40 percent of detentions, 34 percent of adjudications (guilty determinations), and 45 percent of cases transferred to adult criminal court.
The percentage of black arrests and adjudications has actually increased in the last 20 years. In 1990, black youth were 15 percent of the entire youth population, but they made up 27 percent of juvenile arrests, 33 percent of adjudications and 40 percent of detentions. The only area that saw improvement by 2010 was in transfers to adult court, where black youth comprised 49 percent of transfers in 1990.
The OJJDP also uses another measurement to determine the level of disproportionate contact for youth of color, known as the Relative Rate Index or RRI, which looks at white youth contact at several points in the system and compares that to minority contact. White contact is assigned the number 1 and anything above 1 would be considered disproportionate or overrepresented. A 1 to 1 ratio would indicate that white and minority youth are appearing at equal rates in the system.
RRI data from OJJDP from 1990-2010 shows that minority youth are still overrepresented in many areas. However, detentions did fall from 1.6 in 1990 to 1.4 in 2010, and waivers fell from 1.7 to 1.4. Adjudications of black youth remained the same at 0.9, but arrests increased from 2 in 1990 to 2.1 in 2010, indicating that arrests of black youth are still occurring at twice the rate of white youth arrests.
These numbers may be disheartening to many who work to reduce the disproportionate number of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, especially given that OJJDP has awarded hundreds of millions to states since 1988, when Congress mandated recipients of formula grants have plans to address disproportionate minority contact, also known as DMC. The law was later amended in 2002 to address the disproportionate number of minority youth who come into any contact with the juvenile justice system and are not just in confinement.
It's impossible to know the exact amount of government funds that have gone toward reducing DMC since 1988 because addressing minority contact is only one of four criteria that states must comply with when vying for formula grants. What's more, once states receive the grant, it's up to them to determine how much is spent on DMC reduction efforts.
To get a general sense of how much money is involved, consider that OJJDP has given more than $600 million in formula grants and other grants that have DMC components from 2007-2013 alone. The agency also spends time assisting states in training, technical assistance and evaluations.
Although OJJDP gives "strong recommendations" to states on how they should spend their formula grants, the amount devoted to DMC reduction efforts varies by state, said Andrea Coleman, OJJDP's DMC coordinator. Some states allocate 80 percent, while others will set aside 20 percent or 15 percent, she added.
The agency requires those seeking formula funds to follow their DMC Reduction Model, which begins with identifying the extent of DMC using the RRI formula, assessing what's contributing to DMC and implementing plans to reduce DMC through the use of diversion, alternatives to confinement, training or procedural changes. The final phases of the model include evaluating how effective their actions have been, monitoring to see if data reflects changes to DMC and making adjustments based on the data.
This model is often far too general, said James Bell, the founder and executive director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, which works to eliminate racial and ethnic disparity in the juvenile justice system.
"The statute that they're working with says that the OJJDP shall address DMC," Bell said. "OJJDP has gotten much better over time, but when we first started, literally ‘address’ could be you and I go together to a salad bar and talk about it. If I don't want to do anything, what I'll do is address it by giving 10 grand to a professor at a local college to come up with a study, and then put on a conference next year, or maybe an MLK breakfast."
Bell said what's lacking is direction from OJJDP to look at DMC at a local level, in counties, cities, police departments and schools. The agency has also been overly focused on getting communities to learn and calculate the RRI in their community, which Bell said doesn't provide the full picture of inequality.
"You have to analyze crimes in specific communities. Sometimes the problem is not racism or poverty. Sometimes the reason for DMC is they've set up a system that couldn't help anyone," Bell said. "It could be something as simple as when that jurisdiction holds court, whether it’s on a morning calendar or an afternoon calendar."
One of the failings of the federal grant process to reduce DMC is that it's not clear where the money has been spent on a local level, added Alex Piquero, a criminology professor at the University of Texas in Dallas who has researched DMC. Success stories are also isolated, and solutions are hard to extrapolate because what may work in Santa Cruz may not work in Philadelphia or Orlando, he added.
"Just because you throw money at a problem, doesn't mean it will solve the problem," Piquero said. "Dollars have to be spent wisely. We need to figure out why these statistics emerge the way they do and spend careful attention on why these kids offend at different rates or for different reasons and how the systems deal with them."
Working with Police
The OJJDP data over the last 20 years clearly shows arrests have the largest level of minority overrepresentation, however OJJDP formula grants don't affect police departments because they are funded through other sources that don't have DMC components. A local police department doesn't have as much incentive to work on DMC reduction efforts as other entities that get OJJDP formula grants, experts say.
It's often difficult for states to build relationships and work with police departments to gain enough trust to allow them to go in and study the issue, said Michael J. Leiber, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida and the former chair of Iowa’s DMC Committee. That's why many of the studies of the DMC mandate have not included police and focus instead on the courts, he added.
"It's up to the police to say I'll let you in," Leiber said. "I'm not defending the police, but they are jumped on all the time for police brutality and racial profiling. They're sensitive about people coming in to study them and feel they would be attacked. For a researcher to get in is very difficult."
OJJDP has recognized that there is a need to focus on the front part of the system, DMC Coordinator Coleman said. It was only until 2002, when the law was broadened to disproportionate minority contact, that OJJDP was able to legally address arrests, she added. Prior to that their efforts were focused on correctional facilities.
Coleman cites an example in Connecticut where the state has looked at DMC arrests since 2005 and developed a training curriculum for patrol officers. Police departments who sent officers to get certified in the training would then be eligible to apply for OJJDP formula grants for police and youth community service projects. The state has seen a 40 percent reduction in black youth arrests since 2006, she said.
"It's only been in probably the last three years that states have really started to concentrate looking at disproportionality in arrests," Coleman said. "I think over the next several years, we'll start to see those numbers come down at the front part of the system."
This story produced by the Chicago Bureau.
The close of 2012 focused so narrowly on terrible events and startling numbers - the Newtown massacre, for example, or Chicago’s sharp rise in homicides - some major criminal justice developments were nearly squeezed out of the national conversation.
Take the statements made just over a week ago by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who vowed to take on the tricky issue of the skewed racial picture in the county’s corrections and justice system, including within the juvenile justice system.
Speaking to a group of reporters, the news – including a statement that she will “work with the actors in the public safety arena” to lessen the overall corrections population and push alternatives to locking up non-violent offenders – the story got little more than a day’s play on the airwaves and in other media. Always outspoken, the board president served many years as an alderman fighting for various social justice causes, including race and drug issues (she at one point challenged the validity of any national “war on drugs”).
So in saying she would lasso the needed parties to lessen the numbers entering the corrections populations, and continuing the pitch to rid Cook of the juvenile system as currently set up, Preckwinkle made news. The numbers, so often repeated, were underscored in her talk: “The last time I checked,” she said, “68 percent of the people in our jail were African American - or double their proportion in the overall county population. Translated, she is attempting to answer a criminal justice and societal problem that has stymied policymakers, academics and law enforcement, among others, for decades.
And yet, like so much news at the turn of the year, it was swallowed by national news of tragedy, the fiscal crisis and President Barack Obama’s cabinet changes, and the play didn’t last long.
Also struggling to gain traction was a push by advocates, politicians and the courts to tip the balance of juvenile justice away from harsh punishment to rehabilitation. But to do so, Preckwinkle’s promise to fix local correction’s racial imbalance, weighted so heavily against blacks and Hispanics, would have to be addressed.
In Shelby County, Tenn., the problem was so profound it recently invited a federal settlement to remedy it. Still, the problem of Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) continues to plague minority populations.
DMC, the racial tilt of the criminal justice system, is a long-running issue for many civil rights and advocacy organizations who have put out conflicting studies over the years that compete over the reasons, including low educational achievement and high unemployment among minorities, and urban environments with more open-air criminal conduct where the crime is more easily spotted by police (unlike in suburban and rural areas).
“For so long we’ve invested in building up these institutions (jails, juvenile courts, detention centers) at the detriment of investing in communities and social services, especially in the neighborhoods where [detained] folks are coming from,” said Tshaka Barrows, deputy director of the San Francisco-based Burns Institute, a national non-profit aiming, with law enforcement and community leaders, to erase racial disparity. “And that’s not a productive way of engaging your citizenry. We as a society really need to invest in education, housing infrastructure, etc., because that investment matters, as we see on the justice side.”
The trick is to speed the process and, perhaps, start to eradicate a stain on the system – one that has drawn an increasing volume of suits, legislation, and community pushes to inject balance in a system that too often spins out black and Hispanic minors who are further traumatized by prison, highly unemployable, and lacking a decent education to break the school-to-prison pipeline.
Cycle of Poverty, Incarceration Systemically Tied
Black youth make up 17 percent of the overall youth population in the United States, but they make up 30 percent of arrested juveniles and 62 percent of minors prosecuted in the adult criminal system, according to the D.C.-based Campaign for Youth Justice.
A look at Illinois shows black youth represent 85 percent of the juvenile justice population, according to the Cook County Circuit Court, even though they only represent one-fifth of the state’s youth population.
The problem was accelerated by the high-crime decades of the 1980s and 1990s that introduced severe laws targeting minors to stem a suspected “superpredator” generation that never came to pass. Youth prisons were built. Now they’re empty. Schools placed more and more police officers or guards in schools, something that is now on the map again following Newtown. Now there are studies claiming the presence of more security in the schools has only worsened the problem.
As it is, about 250 youth are locked up in the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Roughly 80
percent of that population is black - and year-to-year stats put the black population in juvenile dentition at roughly 75 percent of the total, which includes about 15 percent to 18 percent Hispanics and 7 percent white.
"Why,” asked the board president in Cook County, which covers Chicago, “is there a disproportionate number of black children in the JTDC and what does it say about the way we police our communities?"
Very often, police, called out to crime dens on Chicago’s South and West Sides, sweep streets or target large areas to clear them of crime and blunt the prospects of violent gang reprisals. In doing so, they snatch up a large percentage of black and Hispanic youth, who are most likely to be stuck in the cycle of poverty and poor education that so feeds the criminal justice system.
"It's not necessarily true," she said, "that the more people you arrest, the safer the community you have. And you're more likely to end up in secure juvenile detention if you are African American and display the same behaviors as someone of another race."
Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized the disparity, and taken measures to address it, be it for drugs or other felonies that could land youngsters in adult court. But it’s been a tough, often losing fight.
For example, take drug arrests of minors – a push to tackle a problem that quickly drove incarceration rates up dramatically. But recent studies show states’ recent decriminalization of some use of marijuana – including in California – has already resulted in a downward spiral in youth crime rates.
Already, pot bars are starting to grow up in that state, while others consider following its lead, and still others, including Illinois, are working on laws to ease restrictions on medical marijuana. Also, cops in Chicago have started focusing on greater stashes to justify arrests – meaning fewer people are arrested, and therefore jailed.
Indeed, in California, 2011 saw a 61 percent drop since 2010 of youth arrests for marijuana possession, according to a recent report by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. The new state law reducing that offense from a misdemeanor to an infraction directly affects juvenile detention numbers, as drug arrests are the leading cause of youth confinement.
What remains to be seen is whether the racial and ethnic disparities of those arrests will also drop. Experts hesitate to be too optimistic considering the institutionalized disparities in America’s juvenile justice system. As with most crimes, minorities aren’t more prone to drug use or drug possession than whites. Nevertheless, minorities count for a disproportionate number of drug arrests.
In 2009, the rate for drug violation arrests for black juveniles was twice the white rate, according to the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Black youth are also much more likely (48 times more likely in 2001, and the numbers haven’t budged much since) than white youth to be incarcerated in an adult prison after a first-time drug arrest.
Laws such as California's are attempting to hit this issue from the policy level. But many of the ground-level factors contributing to DMC are not adequately addressed, according to experts in the field.
New York City police statistics show that between 2005 and 2010, police made 2.5 million stops. Of those, 90 percent were people of color and 90 percent did not result in legal action.
“The police are a critical part of the juvenile justice decision-making system and are afforded far more discretion than any other formal agent of social control, but researchers have paid surprisingly little attention to contacts between police and citizens, especially juveniles,” according to criminal justice professor Alex Piquero of the University of Maryland-College Park.
Piquero, in research dating to 2008, said police act as the “gatekeepers” to juvenile courts, and if their decisions are somehow race-based, minorities will continue to be overrepresented in the corrections system.
“The first step is to really address the use of data within jurisdictions … to look at [the numbers] regularly enough to help drive the way people make decisions,” Barrows said.
For example, jurisdictions look at how many kids in juvenile detention centers are from a particular geographic area. In Chicago, the concentration is on the heavily minority neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.
Other standards include the study of race, ethnicity, gender and offense. After assessing it, the idea is to monitor the data and reform the responses and thinking practices that have contributed to systematic disparity.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention was created by – and is directed by – the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. Providing a federal grant program, it requires participant states to address DMC through a data-driven approach. This calls for states and communities to assess their DMC levels and develop mitigation initiatives.
However, many in the system, including experts, the affected minors, teachers and law enforcement, say the nearly 40-year-old law has little teeth. As a result, communities nationwide are using increasingly innovative measures to tackle DMC.
Recent models use community interveners or mentors to talk to kids directly, attempting to de-escalate a situation through an adult rather than automatically resorting to detention.
In the New York City neighborhoods of Harlem, Jamaica and South Bronx, the New York Department of Probation is collaborating with residents, businesses and organizations in what is called the Neighborhood Opportunity Network.
This model attempts to connect probation clients to community-based resources and services to avoid recidivism usually caused by ineffective, cyclical, punitive measures. Such initiatives are examples of what Barrows calls a “renaissance” of community engagement and partnership approaches in dealing with racial and ethnic disparities.
However, with today’s Congressional push for spending cuts – as well as ongoing budget deficits at the state level, especially in Illinois – juvenile justice funding has taken a back seat to other, more popular or welcome projects.
"Our big concern right now has to do with the cuts to juvenile justice funding, part of which gets used to make sure [states] comply with JJDPA,” said Benjamin Chambers, National Juvenile Justice Network spokesman. “Without those resources, they don’t have to comply. And that’s a slippery slope.”
Bureau editor Eric Ferkenhoff contributed to this report.
Last week, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) released an updated fact sheet addressing disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the nation’s juvenile justice system.
The OJJDP requires states participating in its Part B Formula Grants program to collect information about the effectiveness of programs and initiatives intended to address the overrepresentation of minority young people in state juvenile justice systems. Using a five-phase DMC reduction model, the OJJDP advises states to calculate disproportionality, assess “mechanisms” contributing to DMC and develop intervention, evaluation and monitoring programs to deter delinquency and initiate systematic improvements.
According to 2011 data, 41 states now have DMC subcommittees under State Advisory Groups, while 37 have either part-time or state-level personnel designated as DMC coordinators. Twenty-nine states have collected DMC data at nine contact points within their juvenile justice systems, while an additional 13 have collected DMC data from at least six contact points. Thirty-four states, the updated data indicates, have invested in “targeted local DMC reduction sites.”
Regarding intervention practices, 34 states have implemented systems improvement and delinquency prevention strategies, while 30 have either funded or received funding and/or technical assistance to implement DMC reduction programs patterned after nationally recognized models. In 2011, 10 states had implemented DMC reduction programs specifically targeting American Indian and Alaska Native young people.
Although 39 states have released timelines for monitoring relative rate indexes (RRI), described by the OJJDP as “the rate of activity involving minority youth divided by the rate of activity involving majority youth,” data indicates that only four states -- California, Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee -- “have conducted at least one evaluation of delinquency prevention and/or systems improvement strategies statewide or in their local DMC reduction site,” according to the fact sheet.
Photo courtesy of the OJJDP fact sheet.
Newly collected data from the Department of Education shows that minority students are disproportionately subject to harsher disciplinary actions in public schools than their peers and offers insight into opportunity gaps for public school students around the country.
More than 70 percent of students involved in school arrests or law enforcement referrals were black or Hispanic, according to the report. Black students were three and half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers, the New York Times reported.
The Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 gathered statistics from 72,000 schools, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students from kindergarten through high school.
While the disciplinary data is probably the most dramatic, the statistics illustrated a range of racial and ethnic disparities. Finding included:
- Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, however, 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.
- Over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.
- Black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
- 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.
“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”
The department has gathered information on civil rights and education since 1968, yet the Bush administration suspended the project in 2006. Since then, the data collection has been reinstated and expanded to include referrals to law enforcement, The New York Times reported.
The Civil Rights Data Collection is being released in two parts. This afternoon Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, along with Aliwill will announce the results at Howard University. Afterward, data will be publicly available at ocrdata.ed.gov.
Check back for expanded coverage and updates.
Juvenile Justice Programs across the nation could face $50 million in cuts outlined in the White House budget proposal. The Obama budget calls for “tough choices,” including a revamp of the way states must qualify for funding, based on how well they meet federal standards.
Title II formula grants would come out of a $120 million fund called the Juvenile Justice System Incentive Grants. States would have to compete for rewards, based on how well they use evidence-based strategies, diversion programs and whether they reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC). Youth Today digs into this new concept and how it might work.
The President’s budget is a mix of cuts paired with some increases that could affect communities in different ways, according to thecrimereport.org. On the plus side, the Justice Department may get a 2% increase over all, including more money for the FBI, and $600 million for communities to hire first responder police officers. On the down side, the DEA faces cuts, and the Office of Justice Programs could take a large hit, hurting state and local crime prevention.
Republican proposals from the House Appropriations Committee are even more severe, according to Youth Today. That plan would cut all funding to programs like YouthBuild, teen pregnancy prevention, Teach for America, and state grants for incarcerated youth. AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service would be gutted. Juvenile justice grants and Law Enforcement Assistance Grants (including Byrne) would face sharp reductions.
Two well known child advocates are making an impassioned plea to fight harder against disproportionate minority contact in juvenile justice systems nationwide. Nancy Gannon Hornberger, executive director of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, and her colleague, Gina E. Wood, chair of the Ethnic and Cultural Diversity Committee, write about unfairness, inequality and racial and ethnic disparities in Youth Today.
They urge congress to consider a DMC amendment to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Action, currently up for reauthorization. They recommend a policy requiring every state to identify and solve problems with a six-point plan:
- Establish coordinating bodies to oversee efforts to reduce disparities.
- Identify key decision points in the system (i.e., arrest, detention, diversion) and the criteria by which decisions are made.
- Create systems to collect local data at these points of contact of youth with the juvenile justice system (including case level/individual level data) to identify where disparities exist and the causes of such disparities.
- Develop and implement plans to address disparities that include measurable objectives for change.
- Publicly report findings.
- Evaluate progress toward reducing disparities.
Disproportionate minority contact and detention of status offenders are the core issues for Georgia’s juvenile justice system, according to Joseph Vignati, Justice Programs Coordinator at the Governor’s Office for Children and Families. Vignati will testify at a hearing on reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in Washington D.C. this week. He speaks with a loud voice, because he’s also the National Juvenile Justice Specialist for the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, representing 56 states and territories.
Vignati says the JJDP Act requires states to focus on four core issues:
- Removing juvenile offenders from adult jails
- Separating juveniles from adults if they are held in the same lockup
- Disproportionate minority contact
- Minimizing the detention of status offenders
He believes the first two issues are less significant now than they were 20 years ago, because Georgia and other states have laws against housing children with adults, and separate detention centers for kids. Vignati points out, “In FY 2009 we had only 23 juveniles locked up as adults across the state, and 20 of them lied about their age. We track it. We feel like we’ve addressed it. So this is not really an issue for us. Let us focus where we need to.”
At a time of shrinking resources, Vignati wants the federal government to allow states to focus on the current issues of DMC and DSO. “Our focus is on getting good data and using that data to help courts make changes.” Vignati believes , “if you’re tracking DMC in your state and you have a plan to deal with it, that’s not enough.”
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009 has been the subject of numerous hearings, and much research. Hearings set for Wednesday and Thursday are being conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, which is doing a 2-year study for the Justice Department, to assess juvenile justice policies and practices. The study, announced on Monday, lists six goals:
- Assess OJJDP's activities to implement the JJDP Act
- Review the legislative history to ascertain congressional intent and identify major changes in the Act's core requirements
- Assess research on delinquency prevention and treatment and implications for public policy
- Review research on the transfer of juveniles to adult courts
- Evaluate data on the conditions of confinement for juveniles in juvenile and adult facilities
- Provide recommendations to improve federal and state policies.
African American teens are 2.3 times more likely to get arrested in Georgia than Caucasian teens, and 5.5 times more likely to land in adult court, according to the latest numbers from the Governor's Office for Children and Families. This level of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) is not unique to Georgia. It’s a problem across the country. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention is launching a study to reduce the number of minorities in contact with the juvenile justice system. The agency has awarded a 3-year grant to Development Services Group, Inc., a Maryland consulting company. The mission is to compare the rates of contact with the justice system for white and minority teens. Researchers will study what happens at nine different points of contact from arrest, to diversion, to detention, imprisonment or transfer to adult court. They hope to identify promising programs that states like Georgia can use to end the DMC problem.