BLACK TEENS ARE FOUR TIMES MORE LIKELY THAN WHITE TEENS TO BE ARRESTED FOR A JUVENILE OFFENSE. So why? Do Black youths commit more crimes or are they disadvantaged by prejudiced policing? A new analysis examines racial inequities in Massachusetts’ juvenile justice system using state court data. Massachusetts’ 2018 criminal justice reform law has curtailed the usage of the juvenile justice system, focusing on diverting juveniles from the courts. A report released Tuesday by the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board finds that individuals who remain in the system continue to face racial inequities.
The major differences are at the “front door” — who gets complaints made against them and whether those complaints are resolved by physical arrest or a summons to court. The survey says Black and Latino youth conduct more serious or dangerous crimes. Not all disparities may be attributable to these characteristics, leaving bias and police decision-making as plausible contributors.
Maria Mossaides chairs the Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board, which includes government appointees, criminal justice agencies, and activists. Melissa Threadgill, director of strategic innovation for the Office of the Child Advocate, said discrepancies in juvenile justice aren’t new, but understanding them is. “Many explanations have been proposed to explain the differences. “We wanted to go into the data,” she stated.
The implications are critical because of the impact on children. Contact with the juvenile court system can lead to terrible outcomes, Threadgill said. The paper states that being physically arrested – placed in handcuffs in a police cruiser or jail – can be traumatizing for adolescents and has long-term detrimental emotional, physical, and social effects. Mossaides stated, “We recognize the detrimental consequences any justice system engagement may have on kids. That’s why best practice and state law urge issuing court summonses instead of handcuffing or locking a child up whenever possible.”
The report covers complaints submitted by police between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. There are big racial gaps. A juvenile can enter the system through an arrest or court summons. 10 percent of the state’s juvenile population is black, but they make up 19 percent of complaint applications and 23 percent of custodial arrests. Latino adolescents make up 18% of the juvenile population, 23% of complaints, and 28% of arrests. Black adolescents were 3 times more likely to file a complaint and 4 times more likely to be arrested than White youth. Latino teens were twice as likely to be the subject of a complaint and three times as likely to be arrested than White teens.
Those this have anything to do with race?
According to COMMONWEALTHMAGAZINE, It can be difficult to say if racial disproportionality is warranted in many studies. If Black and Latino adolescents commit more serious crimes, they should be jailed more. This paper analyzes four possible reasons for the disparities: variances in offense severity, offense type, geography, and police behavior and decision-making, including racial bias. The report says each is a factor.
Race affects crime severity. 53% of Black youth complaints were for felonies, vs 46% of Latino and 37% of White complaints. That means more arrests since cops are more inclined to conduct a custodial arrest for a felony. That didn’t explain the entire arrest rate disparity. 32% of Latinos and 28% of Blacks arrested for misdemeanors vs. 18% of Whites. In felony cases, Blacks and Latinos were arrested more than Whites.
Weapons charges, including gun possession, and “person” charges, like violence, are most likely to result in arrests because they threaten public safety. Again, Black and Latino kids were more likely to be arrested. Within each infraction classification, Blacks and Latinos were more likely to be arrested. The report identified some spatial differences, but not enough to explain the gaps.
The third question was if police department or officer procedures and bias lead to kids being arrested rather than summoned or diverted. There isn’t enough data to analyze this in Massachusetts, but national literature implies bias is certainly an influence. The bias might be a department deciding to police certain neighborhoods or an officer’s discretion to arrest a kid instead of issuing a summons or offering diversion. “Police practices can explain part of what we see,” Threadgill added.
What can be the remedy?
The report recommends expanding diversion and community-based programs, strengthening data collecting and evaluation, and standardizing police tactics including when to summons and arrest a child. Adam Gomez, a Springfield state senator who faced a felony accusation at 17, co-chairs the Legislature’s Committee on Children, Families, and People with Disabilities. Gomez abstained from voting because his employee attended the last meeting, but he said the report shows more effort has to be done to combat inequality and keep Black and Latino youngsters out of the system. Our kids deserve more than shackles, Gomez added. We must invest heavily in that area.
Gomez said kids without a strong home support system need help. He remarked, “We don’t want to penalize sad circumstances; we want to assist these kids prosper in the Commonwealth.”
News from SNBC13.com