How We Combat DMC

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Mark Soler

Some additional information about DMC is necessary to avoid error and misunderstanding.

First, there are actually three goals in reducing DMC: reduction of overrepresentation of youth of color, reduction of disparate treatment affecting youth of color, and reduction of entry and penetration of youth of color into the juvenile justice system.

1. “Reducing overrepresentation” means reducing the percentage of youth of color at a particular point in the system, such as arrest or detention, compared with their percentage in the general population or at earlier points in the system.

2. Research has also shown that youth of color suffer harsher treatment than white youth at key points in the system, even when charged with the same category of offense. “Reducing disparate treatment” means reducing this inequity.

3. Many youth of color are formally charged in the juvenile justice system or penetrate more deeply into the system (e.g., by being locked up before trial) for minor, nonviolent behavior. The third goal of reducing DMC is to avoid formal entry and deeper penetration into the system when there are viable alternatives that don’t jeopardize public safety.

A number of strategies have been helpful in achieving these goals: having a governing committee for DMC reduction efforts that includes formal stakeholders (judges, probation officers, prosecutors, defenders, police) as well as community leaders and parents; collecting and analyzing data on race, ethnicity, gender, age, geographical location, offense, arrest, detention, commitment and other variables, and using that data to drive policy decisions and identify appropriate interventions; using objective detention screening instruments to reduce unnecessary incarceration; developing community-based alternatives to pretrial detention; reducing case processing delays; and regularly monitoring the impact of reforms to ensure effectiveness.

These strategies are the hallmarks of efforts to reduce DMC by JDAI, the Burns Institute and Models for Change.

The strategies have been effective in achieving one or more of the goals of DMC reduction in jurisdictions around the country:

• Santa Cruz, Calif., reduced disproportionate admissions to detention of Latino youth by finding alternatives for youth who violated probation and youth who were initially detained by the probation department but released by the judge at their first appearance in court.

• Multnomah County (Portland), Ore., reduced disparate treatment so that (contrary to the statement in your sidebar) youth of color and white youth had the same likelihood of being detained prior to adjudication.

• As Bart Lubow of JDAI correctly noted in your story, Cook County, Ill., reduced entry and penetration of youth of color into the juvenile justice system by reducing the average daily population in the county detention facility by some 300 youth, virtually all of them youth of color.

Santa Cruz, Multnomah, and Cook County are all JDAI sites. Many other JDAI sites have reduced overrepresentation and the number of youth of color who unnecessarily enter and penetrate into the system by reducing detention admissions.

James Bell pioneered efforts to engage the community in decision-making and dig deeper into data to identify policies and practices that lead to DMC. He and his colleagues have had significant success in places such as Pima County, Ariz., and Peoria, Ill.

Models for Change has supported effective strategies to reduce detention of youth of color in jurisdictions such as Berks County, Pa., and Rapides Parish, La. Jefferson Parish, La., which is both a JDAI and a Models for Change site, has also significantly reduced detention of youth of color.

We have a long way to go in reducing DMC. There is no “magic bullet.” It is no answer to call the Burns Institute, or the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, or anyone else from the outside and expect them to “solve the race problem” in the jurisdiction.

Outsiders can suggest data to collect, help with analysis, and facilitate meetings of stakeholders, but the community – juvenile justice professionals, community leaders and parents – must take responsibility for implementing reforms.

Mark Soler
Center for Children’s Law and Policy
Washington, D.C