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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System


punishment. The increased ease in trying juveniles as adults became a defining feature of "tough-on-crime" policies in the 1990s. As Loyola law professor Sacha Coupet argues, "[o]ne way in which "get tough" advocates have supported a merger between the adult criminal and juvenile systems is by expanding the scope of transfer provisions or waivers that bring children under the jurisdiction of the adult criminal system". Some states moved specific classes of crimes from the juvenile court to adult criminal court while others gave this power to judges or prosecutors on a case-by-case basis. Still others require the courts to treat offending youth like adults, but within the juvenile system. In some states, adjudicated offenders face mandatory sentences. By 1997, all but three states had passed a combination of laws that eased use of transfer provisions, provided courts with expanded sentencing options and removed the confidentiality tradition of the juvenile court. Juvenile courts were transformed to more easily allow for prosecution of juveniles as adults at the same time the adult system was re-defining which acts constituted a "serious crime." The "three strikes laws" that began in 1993 fundamentally altered the criminal offenses that resulted in detention, imprisonment and even a life sentence, for both youth and adults. "Three strikes laws" were not specific to juvenile offenders, but they were enacted during a period when the lines between juvenile and adult court were becoming increasingly blurred. The War on Drugs and "tough-on-crime" policies like Three Strikes resulted in an explosion in the number of incarcerated individuals. Implementation of the Gun Free School Act (GFSA) in 1994 is one example of a "tough on crime" policy that has contributed to increased numbers of young people being arrested and detained. It was intended to prosecute young offenders for serious crimes like gun possession on school property, but many states interpreted this law to include less dangerous weapons and drug possession. Many schools even interpreted GFSA to include "infractions that pose no safety concern, such as 'disobeying [school] rules, 'insubordination,' and 'disruption". These offenses can now warrant suspension, expulsion and involvement with juvenile justice courts. Schools have become the primary stage for juvenile arrest and the charges brought against them and punishments they face are increasing in severity. Today this is frequently referred to as the School to prison pipeline. Demographics Demographic information for youth involved in the Juvenile Justice system is somewhat difficult to collect, as most data is collected at state, county, and city levels. Although the office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention publishes national numbers that breakdown the racial make-up of youth involved in the juvenile justice system, this data provides an incomplete picture, as it excludes Hispanic youth in its demographic calculations. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in 2011 there were a total of 1,236,200 cases handled by the juvenile courts. 891,100 cases dealt with males, compared with 345,100 for females. The most prominent age group represented in the courts is 13 to 15 years, which make up 552,000 of the total cases. 410,900 of the Page 20 of 114

cases involved Black adolescents, which represents about one-third of the total court cases. The number of cases handled by the juvenile courts in the United States was 1,159,000 in 1985, and increased steadily until 1998, reaching a high point of 1,872,700. After this point, the number of cases steadily declined until 2011. In the 1,236,200 cases settled in 2011, 60% of the juveniles had a previous background of criminal history in their families and 96% of the juveniles had substance abuse problems, often related to parental/guardian substance abuse. In 1999, juveniles accounted for 16% of all violent crime arrests, and 32% of all property crime. They also accounted for 54% of all arson arrests, 42% of vandalism arrests, 31% of larceny-theft arrests, and 33% of burglary arrests. Racial Discrepancies Since 1995, the rate of confinement has dropped by 41%, and the rate has decreased among all major racial groups in the US. However, disparities by race remain apparent: in 2010, 225 youths per 100,000 were in confinement. When separated by race, there were 605 African-Americans, 127 Non-Hispanic Whites, 229 Hispanics, 367 Native Americans, and 47 Asian/Pacific Islanders in confinement per 100,000. African- Americans are close to five times more likely to be confined than white youths, while Latino and Native Americans are two to three times more likely to be confined than white youths. Racial disparities in confinement are relatively constant across states. Page 21 of 114

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