Juvenile Injustice: Racial Disparities in Incarceration Start Early


By Alfonso Serrano

Much like its adult counterpart, the United States’ juvenile justice system teems with racial disparities and overcrowding in settings inundated with non-violent, low-level offenders, according to a new report.

Nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative released Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie on February 27, 2018. Per the report, although Black kids represent less than 14 precent of all American youth under the age of 18, Black boys make up 43 percent of the male population in juvenile facilities, while Black girls comprise 34 percent of incarcerated girls. Native Americans, who represent less than 1 percent of the U.S. youth populace, constitute 3 percent of all girls and 1.5 percent of all boys in juvenile detention facilities.

“At every stage of justice involvement, youth of color face disadvantages—overpolicing of their communities, criminalization of their behavior in schools, and a greater likelihood of being tried as adults and held in adult jails,” report author Wendy Sawyer told Colorlines. “If we want to end the overcriminalization of people of color, we need to take steps to help youth—especially Black and Native youth—avoid confinement, which is traumatic and can lead to further justice involvement down the line.”

The report’s findings mirror previous research on the adult prison population, which highlight the racially disparate policies that have helped make the U.S. the world’s largest incarcerator. A 2016 study from The Sentencing Project, for example, found that Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at more than five times the rate of Whites. In five states—Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin—that racial disparity is more than 10 to 1, the report found.

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