ACLU Cites Massachusetts on Juvenile Justice Bias

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The American Civil Liberties Union charges that Massachusetts has failed to track and reduce racial disparities in its juvenile justice system, even after receiving $35 million in federal funds that includes a mandate to deal with the problem, the Boston Globe reports.

Massachusetts public safety leaders have known for nearly a decade that black and Latino children are treated more harshly than whites at every stage of the process, the report asserts. Minority youths last year accounted for 25 percent of juvenile arrests but 63 percent of juveniles sent to lockups, a pattern that dates back at least nine years. The ACLU’s Robin Dahlberg said, “These figures appear to indicate that whether a child who enters the Massachusetts juvenile justice system is sent home or sent to jail depends on the color of his or her skin.”

The state’s Executive Office of Public Safety named Bob Gittens, a prominent African-American figure in law enforcement and social services, to take over the committee responsible for examining racial disparities in the system.

The ACLU said it found labyrinthine bureaucracy with no centralized data system and an obscure state committee stacked with white government employees. The committee, which controls federal funds for youth programs, has refused to hold public meetings and has thwarted efforts by the Department of Justice to make racial disparities in the juvenile justice system a greater priority, the ACLU said.

Several other states — including Oregon, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida — have made strides in addressing minority overrepresentation in juvenile justice, Massachusetts fails to keep basic data, including consistent arraignment information for all youths, and arrest reports for Latinos, who account for nearly one-third of all committed juveniles, the report noted.


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