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Race Matters: Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System

Published Dec 12, 2014, Center for Children's Law and Policy

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Racial and ethnic disparities are one of the most pervasive and disturbing characteristics of our juvenile justice system.  Youth of color are over-represented at key decision points, including arrest, referral, detention, transfer to adult criminal court, and commitment to state custody.  As the National Research Council noted in a comprehensive review of the literature, “Several recent careful reviews…have found that ‘race matters’ beyond the characteristics of an offense.”

At the same time, many juvenile justice officials find it difficult to discuss racial bias.  Avoidance, denial, and fear of being the object of accusations impede attempts at reform.  Moreover, despite decades of efforts to study and address disparities, few jurisdictions have implemented reforms with measurable impacts on youth of color.

For all of these reasons, juvenile justice stakeholders, and particularly judges, should be aware of the scope of the problem, how it affects court proceedings, and effective remedial strategies. 

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Models for Change is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, website operated by Justice Policy Institute.