We seek to make a major dent in some of the most overt and destructive instances of “disparate impact” that affect youth and families of color. Each of the following areas provides an opportunity to educate the community and decision makers about the embedded racism of current practices and to secure either voluntarily or by court order a change in policy and practice that would help to remedy and heal the racist system:
1. Incarceration of Juveniles In 2006, there were 29,217 juveniles incarcerated in youth detention centers according to the U.S. Department of Justice. African American youth represent 41% of the youth in detention – even though they constitute only 16% of the population. Similarly, Hispanic youth constitute 24% of youth in detention even though they represent only 19% of the population. In many states, the disparity is even greater.
There is a cost effective, validated remedy. For some time, communities in sixteen states have contracted with the Youth Advocate Program (YAP) to take juveniles out of detention and provide them community-based wrap-around services. Of the youth whom YAP got released from detention, 66% were African American and 17% were Hispanic. The cost to hold a youth at a detention center can run $40,000-$70,000 per year. The cost of the community-based wrap-around provided by YAP runs $15,000-$28,000. The recidivism rate for kids released from detention is over 50%. Working with roughly 10,000 deep-end youth per year, YAP’s recidivism rate has never exceeded 10% over the past 30 years. There is ample statistical data and it has received formal recognition as an exemplary program by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is now undergoing the formal process of becoming an evidence based practice. There are other evidence-based programs validated by the U.S. Department of Justice and all states now are required to keep extensive records on Disparate Minority Contact in order to receive federal Juvenile Justice funding.
2. Education-Related Disability A majority of the children in the delinquency system who are functioning well below grade level have education-related disabilities but have never received the benefit of appropriate and effective special education services to which they are entitled by federal law. They are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. Their behavior is more likely to be labeled delinquent by authorities with life-shaping consequences. A disproportionate number are youth of color. Parents, kinfolk, teachers, students can help alter prevailing practice.
3. Foster Care. Nearly 60% of children in foster care are children of color. While under state mandated care, these children suffer far worse outcomes – in terms of physical and mental health, educational performance, and access to basic services and resources – despite the hard evidence that parents of color are no more likely than white parents to abuse or neglect their children. Keeping them with their families or in subsidized kinship care arrangements can be far less costly and traumatic than foster care. There are jurisdictions which have already demonstrated that as an alternative.
4. Parole Revocation for Minor Violations. Parole revocation for minor or technical violations undermines rehabilitation, destroys efforts at family reunification and community building and drives vast and unnecessary increases in budgets for prisons. The largest study ever undertaken on recidivism by the Department of Justice found that 51.8 percent of criminals return to prison within three years. Of those, over half (26.4 percent) are sent back not for criminal behavior, but for violating a technical condition of parole – a missed appointment, a failed drug test, not landing a job. In many states, as many as a third of all prison admissions each year result from such decisions. Forty-one percent of parolees were white, 39% black, and 18% were Hispanic. There are exemplary programs which have radically reduced return to prison for minor parole violations. The pattern, the consequences, the issues and the remedies are similar when it comes to probation violations by juvenile offenders.
5. Mandatory Minimum Sentence for Crack. Imposing a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a small amount of crack that is 100 times the mandatory minimum sentence for possession of the same amount of cocaine has had a devastating effect on Black communities. Among simple crack possessors and traffickers, the racial disparity is stark: “10.3 percent were White, 84.5 percent were Black, and 5.2 percent were Hispanic.” Minimum sentencing itself runs counter to the rehabilitative objectives of sentencing. Prosecution for possession of crack has produced a prison budget that far exceeds the budget for higher education. Each prison inmate costs more than $20,000 a year. Funds to support the prison industrial complex deprive communities of resources to meet critical needs. Some challenges to these sentences have already succeeded and at least one additional case has already been filed before the appropriate body. But community-based initiatives by former offenders and addicts in recovery can reduce fear, facilitate re-entry and free funds to provide jobs and essentials.