The number of juveniles behind bars in the U.S. has been on the decline, but the racial disparity has been dramatically worsening, with black youth several times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated. The U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is supposed to address this by providing grants and training to local juvenile courts and law enforcement agencies. In return, states receiving federal dollars must gather data on inequality, explore why it’s happening and pursue solutions. With Caren Harp, an appointee of President Trump, in charge, the agency has taken a turn away from that mandate, reports The Marshall Project. Harp is essentially dissolving OJJDP’s research arm, which had been the only federal team regularly compiling information on racial patterns in juvenile arrests and incarceration.
Starting next month, the agency will sharply cut back on its oversight of states’ attempts to reduce “disproportionate minority contact” with the criminal justice system by slashing the kinds of data local agencies must collect. It has rescinded training manuals that juvenile justice officials around the U.S. had been using to improve racial disparities, in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said was ending unnecessary regulation. “OJJDP is dismantling protections for kids of color. It’s that simple,” said Lisa Thurau of Strategies for Youth, a Massachusetts-based advocacy organization. Harp, a former prosecutor and professor at the evangelical Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., said that after many years of little progress on racial disparities, something had to change. “I can’t put 50 million more dollars into the exact same process,” she said. Harp said states have been spending too much time and money compiling data without improving real-life outcomes. She said research on racial disparities will continue at the adult-focused National Institute of Justice.