Missouri has been prosecuting an increasingly disproportionate number of African-American juveniles in adult courts, despite an unusual state law that requires judges to consider racial disparity when deciding whether to transfer such cases, reports the St. Louis Beacon. In 2009, 64 percent of juveniles statewide prosecuted as adults were African Americans, nearly double the 2001 level of 36 percent. Black youth make up 15 percent of the state’s population between 10 and 17 that falls under the jurisdiction of juvenile courts.
Racial disparity has increased even as juvenile crime and the overall number of youth tried as adults each year has fallen considerably from a statewide peak in the mid-1990s. “The numbers are disparate,” says Gary Waint, research director at the Office of State Courts Administrator. “This is a serious issue. I think it needs to be discussed.” Reasons for the disparity are not certain. art of the answer appears to be more black juveniles have been charged with the most serious crimes. Waint cited combined figures from 2008 and 2009 showing that 15 African Americans were certified as adults on charges of killing someone, compared with four whites. The racial breakdowns for robbery, assault, and weapons charges he provided were similarly lopsided. That pattern does not explain all of the disparity. In the adult prosecutions on other charges in those two years, blacks were defendants about half of the cases.