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Of disproportionate minority confinement.

Although Congress in 1988 amended the 1974 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDP Act) to address the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, the situation has worsened. Between 1985 and 1994, the number of delinquency cases handled by juvenile courts increased by 41 percent. Within the same time frame, delinquency cases involving black and other nonwhite youths rose 78 percent and 94 percent, respectively, while the number of delinquency cases involving white youths rose only 26 percent. Since the population of 10- to 19-year-olds is expected to increase by 30 percent between 1995 and 2005, juvenile crime likely will continue to rise. Disproportionate minority confinement also likely will continue into the next century with little or no abatement.

For the last several years, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has scrutinized disproportionate minority confinement. Studies have revealed that institutional bias or racism occurs from the initial contact the juvenile makes with law enforcement up through the juvenile court system itself. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), for example, conducted a study in 1990 to analyze the role of racial bias throughout the juvenile justice process, including arrest, detention, intake, transfer, adjudication and disposition. Results revealed that youths of color were treated differently than their white peers. It was less likely that they would be placed in private facilities. Citing a 1987 study by Barry Krisberg, the NCJFCJ report stated that minorities represented only 35 percent of youths in private facilities, while whites comprised 65 percent - even though the arrest rate of white youths had decreased to 43.9 percent while that of blacks had risen to 54.6 percent.

Indeed, this preferential treatment also is seen in juvenile court petitioned cases. In 1985, minority youths were twice as likely to have their cases petitioned if referred to court for delinquency. This situation still persists.

Reducing the number of minority youths in confinement must begin with the acknowledgment that race makes a difference in all stages of the juvenile justice process. Policy recommendations and solutions also must acknowledge this possibility. Perhaps the most important part of the process to address is the point when police officers make initial contact with juveniles.

Madeline Wordes and Timothy Bynum suggest in their study of bias against youths of color in policing decisions that police officers' stereotypes and perceptions of the abilities of families to "control the youth" influence their decisions in many cases. Law enforcement officers at the front end of the system should become aware of issues that create the seeds of delinquent behavior: low self-esteem, lack of job opportunities, few structured recreational opportunities, poor role modeling and poor parenting.

Wordes' and Bynum's data overwhelmingly shows minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system in communities where African-American youths are a small percentage of the population. For instance, in one locality in Michigan, African-American youths comprised 6 percent of the general adolescent population, but represented 20 percent of juveniles in police records. In communities where African Americans predominated, little overrepresentation was demonstrated. Racially-mixed communities demonstrated minority overrepresentation, but not to the degree of predominantly white communities.

After Wordes and Bynum surveyed and interviewed police officers and juvenile officers, they concluded that "some law enforcement officers made decisions of whether or not to confront a youth based on race or race-related factors." In addition, many juvenile officers considered parental control significant in deciding whether to process a case. Several viewed the absence of a male role model as the primary cause of delinquent behavior. Consequently, African-American youths who only lived with a mother were more likely to be subjected to referral and custody because of "police officers' perceptions."

Another study conducted in 1990 by the Florida Supreme Court's Commission on Race and Ethnic Bias substantiated these results. The majority of judges who responded believed that minority families were less adequate than their white counterparts because more were headed by single mothers. This bias justified higher placements of children of color in public juvenile detention facilities while white youths were more likely to be placed at home.

To begin eliminating disproportionate minority confinement among juveniles, programs such as community policing need to incorporate all levels of community involvement - schools, churches, civic organizations, parent groups, corporations and local businesses. Police officers must create a sense of trust and cooperation with their communities by developing conflict resolution and anger management skills. If police officers use arrest as their last resort rather than their first, minority representation throughout the juvenile justice system will decrease.

Carl J. Lardiero, Ph.D., is director of Maryland and Virginia programs for the Bureau of Rehabilitation Inc.
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Title Annotation:juvenile minorities
Author:Lardiero, Carl J.
Publication:Corrections Today
Date:Jun 1, 1997
Previous Article:Changing times for juvenile corrections.
Next Article:Housing juveniles in adult facilities: a common-sense approach.

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