Crucial Improvements Needed for the State of Youth Justice

Tuesday is President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address. As he prepares to address the nation and outline his priorities for the year, we thought it fruitful to write our own State of Youth Justice address.

Looking Back and Casting Forward: An Emerging Shift for Juvenile Justice in America

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”).

OJJDP Issues Update on Disproportionate Minority Contact

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.

Department of Education

Education Data Shows Disproportionate Minority Discipline, Opportunity Gaps For Public School Students

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.

Obama Budget Calls for Cuts in Juvenile Justice Programs and Revamps Funding Formulas for States

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.

Advocates Urge DMC Amendment to Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act

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.

DMC and DSO are Priorities for GA

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.

Disproportionate Minority Study

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.