Tuesday, May 10, 2011

HBCU, Community Leaders Aim to Reduce Judicial System Contact Among Black Youth

Secretary Frank Peterman, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice; Dr. Phyllis Gray Ray, Executive Director, Florida A & M University Juvenile Justice Research Institute; and President James H. Ammons, Florida A & M University (FAMU) attend the check presentation and grand opening of FAMU's Juvenile Justice Research Institute in October 2010.

In January of this year, we launched a reader survey to obtain feedback on what you enjoy the most and wanted to see more of on our site.  In response, we received an overwhelming request to feature in depth articles that focus on an issue impacting the black community and how you can get involved.  This article is the first in a series that will serve to inform you on an issue you may not have heard of, such as DMC.

You may not be familiar with DMC, but many states, cities and local communities are tackling this issue head on. DMC stands for Disproportionate Minority Contact, and it refers to the disproportionate number of minority youth that come into contact with the judicial system. Simply put, youth of color, particularly African American youth, are arrested, charged and incarcerated more than White youth for similar conduct, though studies show they do not commit more crimes.

According to the W. Haywood Burns Institute, a national leader in DMC, research has shown that across the country, low-level offending youth of color and poor youth who come into the contact with juvenile justice systems are often jailed even though they do not pose a public safety risk.

In 1988, DMC received national attention from a report to Congress by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice; however, this is not a new issue. As early as 1901, the noted African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois studied causes of the disproportional representation of Blacks in the criminal justice system. Today, states are required by Congress to address DMC in order to receive certain federal funds.

Understanding and addressing DMC is an important issue for the African American community, due to the high number of Blacks that make up the prison population. If youth are sent to prison or have a history of detention, they’re more likely to be imprisoned as an adult.

As a requirement of states to address DMC, many have formed DMC committees comprised of local stakeholders, judges, and community leaders. In Florida, an innovative partnership between Florida A & M University and the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) led to the creation of the Juvenile Justice Research Institute (JJRI) that identifies research and implements cutting edge juvenile justice services that will address the needs of youth at greatest risk of delinquency involvement. In addition to researching the causes and remedies to DMC, the Institute will promote a college student mentorship program with local DJJ facilities, increase minority researchers in the area of juvenile justice prevention and best practices, and serve as a local, state, regional and national resource/clearinghouse for juvenile justice professionals and practitioners.

The Juvenile Justice Research Institute at Florida A & M University

Florida DJJ Secretary Frank Peterman Jr. stated, “The over-representation of minorities, particularly black young men, is a special concern in juvenile justice systems across the country. I believe support from the academic community in addressing delinquency will greatly encourage our troubled youth, and show them a positive path filled with young people who are not so very different from themselves.”

Despite the efforts of many, not enough people of color are involved. Elijah L. Wheeler Jr., the DMC Reduction Coordinator at the Montgomery County Collaboration Council in Montgomery County, MD shares, “This issue affects us greater than anyone else, yet, not many people of color are involved in helping to keep our initiative in the forefront and address them via fundraising and volunteer efforts.”

Elijah also shares, “I cannot underscore enough the importance of us to question some of the policies and practices that systemically have led to disproportionate amounts of minority children being incarcerated versus their non-minority peers. This isn’t just a question of crime and punitive measures, but a question of whether or not fair and equitable justice is being dispensed across the board. People who are concerned should find out if there is a local board or entity involved in reviewing the decisions made by their juvenile justice systems and actively engage in helping to try to further reduce the disproportionality.”

To find out if there is a local board or entity addressing DMC in your community, visit the following resources:

Juvenile Justice Research Institute
The W. Haywood Burns Institute

If you have a suggestion for a future issue focused article, please let us know at blackgivesback[at]gmail.com.