Stepping Up: The Role of Communities in Reducing DMC

Stepping Up: The Role of Communities in Reducing DMC

April 16, 2012 | Christopher Hartney, Senior Researcher, NCCD, Susan Marchionna, and Katie Tang

The levels of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system remain intolerable. Compared to their proportions in the general population, far more youth of color are involved in the system than White youth. (See national DMC figures at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/228306.pdfl) Disparity is especially high for African Americans.

The levels of disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the juvenile justice system remain intolerable. Compared to their proportions in the general population, far more youth of color are involved in the system than White youth. (See national DMC figures at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/228306.pdfl) Disparity is especially high for African Americans. For example, according to 2008 data recently made available by the California Attorney General, African American youth in California were arrested and referred to juvenile court over 3 times the rate for White youth. They were transferred to adult court—the harshest level of processing youth can receive—at over 4 times the rate for Whites. Latino and Native American youth are also highly overrepresented.

Some states and counties have made progress assessing and (to a lesser extent) addressing the problem. Much of these activities are due to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), which makes federal juvenile justice funding contingent on such efforts. The Act is currently up for reauthorization. NCCD urges the US Congress to reauthorize—and strengthen—the Act as soon as possible. (For more info, http://act4jj.org/)

Regardless of federal mandates, efforts at the state and local levels are essential to reducing DMC. Despite how entrenched racial disproportionality seems to be, there are many effective strategies—some relatively easy to implement—that can help juvenile justice systems and communities make progress.

Collaboration among leaders from every arena—from schools and public service to law enforcement and the juvenile justice system—is needed to implement a multifaceted set of strategies. Institutional reforms should factor in reliable data and policy analysis to help eliminate discriminatory practices. Objective screening and risk assessments can focus efforts for maximum impact. Cultural sensitivity training for leaders and staff can increase diversity and enhance outcomes for youth inside and outside of detention. Finally, establishing a cabinet-level DMC Committee could provide more long-term leadership and accountability.

Meanwhile, community workers and service providers can capitalize on their knowledge of youth’s needs and circumstances to help safeguard youth. Programs that include education, the arts, recreation, mentoring, and job skills and training are critical—especially for the socio-economically disadvantaged. In addition, communities must address the need for mental and physical health care, substance abuse treatment, parenting skills, and healthy nutrition. Youth will benefit from a greater cultural competency of community workers, a wider use of community-based services, and collaboration with law enforcement.

With commitment and creativity, we can reduce DMC and advance the overall welfare of our society.

Christopher Hartney is a Senior Researcher at NCCD.