Caren Harp, President Trump’s administrator of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, is getting questions about a policy statement that, “We are committed to reducing [disproportionate minority contact] while maintaining public safety,” reports the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. After Harp spoke at last Friday at the annual conference of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, nearly all questions from the audience focused on that one phrase. Many questioners said Harp failed to recognize that the problem with disproportionate minority contact, one of the key problems that the federal law on juvenile justice is designed to correct, is not the behavior of children, but the prejudices of adults in the juvenile justice system.
Harp seemed to defend the notion that she wasn’t going to let a fear of arresting minorities get in the way of encouraging law enforcement, the courts and probation from doing their job without apology, echoing tough-on-crime rhetoric that has emanated from her boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Audience members made the point that “disproportionate minority contact” is about children who end up in the system who shouldn’t be there due to biases of law enforcement or because minority youths encounter wildly different outcomes than their white counterparts once in the system. It was not one Harp seemed to agree with. Amy Donofrio of the Florida-based EVAC, a juvenile justice group for African-American young men, said she asks police officers about statistics that show black young people getting charged with crimes for the same thing for which whites get civil citations for. “We ask …why is that,” Donofrio said. “And without fail no one has an answer. The answer is racism.” Donofrio was disappointed that Harp didn’t address that issue.