Does the Juvenile Justice System Really Work?


Last year, 74 per cent of the juveniles sent to detention facilities in Ohio's Mahoning County were African American—way out of proportion to their share of the population. That jibes with a national trend, in which two out of every five kids incarcerated are black (and one out of every five is Hispanic).

A five-month-long investigation spearheaded by Ashley Luthern of The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio examined the successes and tragedies produced as local courts, probation and schools struggle to address “disproportionate minority contact rates.”

“Everyone in the country has counted and knows where it is a problem, and that's where it ends,” James Bell, founder and executive director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that works to reform juvenile justice, told the newspaper.

“What we don't have is the kind of strategic guidance and political will to go from 'this is the problem' to 'these are the things that we need to do differently.'”

Luthern, a 2012 John Jay/Tow Juvenile Justice Reporting Fellow, produced the investigation as part of her special project in connection with the April 23-24, 2012 Symposium at John Jay College, “Kids Behind Bars.” The newspaper's reporting was published over four days this week. To read Part 1 of her series, please click HERE. The remaining three parts and sidebars can be accessed under Fellows' Articles in TCR's Kids Behind Bars conference page.

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