Reducing Racial Disparities in Juvenile Confinement in Massachusetts

Essay by tran.pUniversity, Master's December 2003

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Concerns about the overrepresentation of minority youth in secure confinement have long been noted, and much research has been devoted to this issue. It is only within the past decade or so, however, that national attention has been directed to the impact of race on juvenile justice decision-making in regards to confinement. In the 1998 amendments to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (Pub. L. No. 93-415, 42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.), Congress required that Massachusetts, which was participating in the Formula Grants Programs, determine if disproportionate minority confinement exists and, if so, demonstrate efforts to reduce it or risk losing future funding eligibility tied to state compliance. The focus of this report is on the discussion of the nature of the problem, its history in not only Massachusetts but throughout the whole nation, its causes, the decisions and relevant research made within the juvenile justice system, and on one essential question- whether race appears to be related to the outcomes of those decisions?

A good deal of research has noted major disparities in the extent of involvement of minority youth, particularly black youth, compared with white youth in the juvenile justice system.

The existence of disproportionate racial representation in the juvenile justice system raises questions about the fundamental fairness and equality of treatment of these youth by the police, courts, and other personnel connected with the juvenile justice system. Furthermore, what happens to youth in their dealings with the juvenile justice system may have substantial consequences for subsequent developments on this issue in the future. To that end, it is solemnly recommended that changes be made in the approach in which Massachusetts performs data collection, monitoring, and juvenile justice administration to address racial disproportionality in the juvenile justice system.

This report is designed to bring...