Plan to reduce disproportionate minority contact in Washtenaw County’s Juvenile Justice System
Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) with the juvenile justice system is a national concern, and is most pronounced for African-America youth. Nationwide, African-Americans represent 15% of the population, 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (National Academy of Sciences, 2000). Recent studies in Michigan mirror this concern as African-American youth were found to be 88% more likely than Caucasian youth to be arrested; 50% more likely to be petitioned to the juvenile court; 2.6 times more likely to be placed in secure detention; and 4.2 times more likely than Caucasian youth to be placed in a correctional/residential treatment facility (Measuring Disproportionate Minority Contact in the Juvenile Justice System: An Examination of the Michigan Relative Rate Index, 2005).
The state-level examination of the DMC Relative Rate Index (RRI) for the period of 1998 – 2002 identifies that DMC is an issue across Michigan, and in Washtenaw County. Unfortunately, due to the use of a limited number of data sources in the report, most of which are not used in Washtenaw County, for most years data is presented for only one of the nine major decision points in Washtenaw County. However, the report does provide evidence of DMC in arrest rates in Washtenaw County, ranging from an RRI for African-American youth of 1.36 in 1999 to 2.71 in 2002. The number of youth impacted by this discrepancy is substantial as Washtenaw County is among the top 10 Michigan counties for juvenile offenses (Paul Elam, Public Policy Associates, May 9, 2008).
The significant presence of DMC for African American youth in Washtenaw County is confirmed with local data, using case filing (petitioning) and probation closing summary data. In Washtenaw County, African-American youth are petitioned to the juvenile court more than 2.5 times their rate in the population. Once in the juvenile justice system, African-American youth are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be ordered into the most intensive and restrictive programs (secure detention, intensive probation, and residential placement). This disparity widened between 2006 and 2007.
Figure 1: Washtenaw County Juvenile Probation Closing Summary Database
In addition to overrepresentation at the petition and placement contact points, data indicates that success rates for Washtenaw County youth vary based on race. In 2007, only 38% of African-American males, compared to 71% of Caucasian males, successfully met our definition of successful completion of supervision. African-American youth, of both genders, were twice as likely as Caucasian youth to be charged with a new offense while under supervision (31% vs. 15%).
The data above indicate that disproportionate minority contact with the juvenile justice system is a problem in Washtenaw County and is the justification for engaging in a DMC Reduction effort. This data does not, however, fully describe the nature or extent of DMC, explain the reasons for the disparity, or provide data to support the selection of priority decision-points and contributing factors. Additional information is needed to fully understand the problem, its causes, and to design a comprehensive intervention plan to reduce DMC.
Washtenaw County will develop a comprehensive plan (read here) to reduce disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in the Juvenile Justice system. Building on the five-phase process designed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and in partnership with Public Policy Associates, a Steering Committee comprised of juvenile justice system representatives (law enforcement, prosecutor, public defender, and juvenile court) and community members will convene beginning in November 2008, to conduct a detailed analysis of the nature and extent of DMC; assess the contributing factors to DMC; and design an intervention plan of system change, training, and direct service to reduce DMC.