The U.S. juvenile justice system metes out harsher punishment to black and Latino youths, locks up thousands of children for relatively minor offenses and ultimately makes them more dangerous, asserts a new study from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation and reported by the Washington Post. “We are generating more violence and criminality in our effort to interrupt it,” said Casey president Douglas Nelson. “We routinely fail to recognize that children are different than adults. We need to alter the context in which we serve kids.”
The foundation’s annual Kids Count report measures the well-being of America’s children in 10 categories. The report shows reductions in the rates of child deaths, teenage births, high school dropouts. and teens who are not in school or working. Four areas increased: low-birthweight infants, children in single-parent homes, children in poverty and children in families in which no parent works full time. The primary focus of this year’s report was the fate of the 400,000 youths who cycle through the juvenile justice system each year. Experts said the problem has largely been fueled by fear and racism that often lead police to take young white offenders home and minorities to jail. In 2006, three youths of color were in custody for every one white youth, the report said. Two thirds of all youths in custody were incarcerated for a nonviolent offense. In the 1990s, 49 states made it easier to try youths as adults. On any given night, 100,000 minors are in jails, prisons, boot camps, or residential facilities.