As part of National Youth Justice Awareness Month, we are highlighting the federal
Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention Act’s(JJDPA) core requirement, “Disproportionate Minority Contact” for its’ role in supporting state and local efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.
The JJDPA, established in 1974 to provide federal standards for the custody and care of youth in the juvenile justice system, was updated twenty years ago with the “Disproportionate Minority Confinement” (DMC) provision requiring states to address the disproportionate confinement of youth of color at key points in the juvenile justice system.
In the most recent JJDPA reauthorization ten years ago, the term confinement was changed to contact emphasizing the racial and ethnic disparities faced by youth of color at all points in the juvenile justice system. “DMC is a critical issue in the juvenile justice system because it is an issue of basic fairness,” says national expert Mark Soler, Founder and Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy
The DMC provision was added to the law because of the huge disparities in the treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. For example, African-American youth make up only 17% of the nation’s total youth population, but African-American youth constitute 30% of the youth arrested nationwide and 62% of all youth in the adult criminal justice system. Latino and Native American youth experience similar unfairness within the juvenile justice system. Latino children, the fastest-growing segment of the American population, represent 23% of all children under the 18. At the same time, Latino youth are 40% more likely than white youth to be admitted to adult prison. Finally, Native American youth receive harsher sentences, with a 50% higher likelihood than white youth to receive out-of-home placement or to be placed in the adult system.
“Having an over-representation of young people of color in confinement means that those young people’s life outcomes are seriously diminished,” says one of the nation’s leaders on efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities, James Bell, Founder and Executive Director of the Haywood Burns Institute
. “And that is why we as a society should care mightily about this.”
These facts are often undermined by a false impression that youth of color commit more crime than white youth. That is simply not true. Results from self-report surveys indicate that white youth are in fact significantly more likely than youth of color to use drugs and alcohol, sell drugs, and engage in minor theft. Although white youth admit high drug use, African-American youth are twice as likely to be arrested and detained and as a group account for 87% of all youth tried in adult court for drug offenses.
However, the recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division three-year investigation into the operations of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee underscores the need to redouble efforts nationally to do much much more, not less, to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
The federal investigation found extensive racial disparities in the treatment of African-American children: African-American youth are twice as likely as white youth to be recommended for transfer to adult court. Of the 390 transfers to adult court in 2010 in Tennessee, approximately one half were from Shelby County, and all but two of the total children transferred were African-American.
As we all take National Youth Justice Awareness Month to highlight key youth justice issues, such as reducing racial and ethnic disparities, we encourage you to take a few minutes to check out the JJDPA Matters Action Center and let your national leaders know you support the JJDPA and related juvenile justice funding. Let them know that federal policies and programs can be part of the solution for youth in your community. Let them know that the JJDPA matters to you.