Minority, white youth detention trends compared

1/10/2013

25th Judicial District sees less disparities compared to state.

25th Judicial District sees less disparities compared to state.

BY ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

While minority youth are over-represented in arrest and detention rates both statewide and locally, in the 25th Judicial District, there isn't the same disparity in arrest per individual and charge-per-arrest rates at the local level when comparing minority and white youth.

Those were some of the findings presented Wednesday to local juvenile detention and law enforcement officials by Dr. Liz Neeley, director of the Nebraska Minority Justice Committee, and Dr. Mitch Herian of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. The pair presented the findings Wednesday at St. Catherine Hospital, as part of the Kansas State Disproportionate Minority Contact Assessment.

"First, we look to see if minority youth were arrested at higher percentages than what we'd expect based on their makeup in the general population. Second, we looked at whether minority youth have more arrests per individual than white youth. Next, we looked at whether minority youth have more charges per arrest than white youth. And finally, we looked at whether there are patterns in offense types, based on ethnic categories," Herian said.

At the state level, Herian said that while American Indian, Asian and white youth are under-represented, black and Hispanics are over represented, in terms of being arrested at higher percentages.

In comparing arrests per individual statewide, it also was demonstrated that black youth have higher arrests per individual than either white or Hispanic youth. In comparing the number of charges per arrest statewide, the number of black and Hispanic youth was also significantly higher than white youth.

Patterns from the state data suggested that black youth are more likely than white youth to be arrested for assault, theft/larceny and disorderly conduct; Hispanic youth are more likely than white youth to be arrested for theft/larceny; that black and Hispanic youth are less likely than white youth to be arrested for liquor law violations; and black youth are less likely than white youth to be arrested for drugs or narcotics.

In going over the same data for the 25th Judicial District, for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011, Herian said the findings were similar to those of the state, in that black and Hispanic youth were over-represented compared to their white counterparts when it comes to arrest and detention rates.

The 25th Judicial District includes Finney, Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Scott and Wichita counties.

"We're seeing here that while the numbers are fairly small, black youth are over-represented in the number of youth arrested, Hispanic youth are over-represented and white youth are slightly under-represented," Herian said.

In comparing the arrests per individual, the data showed that there wasn't a significant difference between white youth, black youth and Hispanic youth. This was also the case for number of charges per arrest.

"This is good news. It means that the level of disparity that we're seeing at the state level with number of arrests (per individual) and number of charges is not reflected in District 25," Neeley said.

In terms of types of crimes, such as assault, theft/larceny, disorderly conduct, liquor law violations and drug or narcotics violations, there was little difference between race or ethnicity in the 25th Judicial District.

Jim Perkins, director of youth services for the 25th Judicial District, said that he found that interesting, as well as reassuring.

"There was no difference across types of crimes. Even though there was an over-representation of arrests, it's not any one particular offense, so it doesn't appear that, for lack of a better phrase, that law enforcement is picking on the minorities for a particular offense," Perkins said.

Neeley presented findings comparing the number of minority youth to the overall youth population of the judicial district, and the finding was that Hispanic youth are significantly over-represented in detention, while white youth are significantly under-represented. She said that several factors play into that, including youth who commit technical violations, such as failure to appear at a court hearing.

In cases of failure to appear, she said, Nebraska began sending out bilingual reminder postcards to offenders, reminding them of a court appearance, drastically reducing the number of technical violations committed.

Neeley said the point of the study is to identify trends and then seek solutions to preventable issues.

"This core idea is really the same and that's why we all are here because we want to ensure people fair treatment for every youth in the juvenile justice system, regardless of their race or ethnicity," Neeley said. "First, legitimacy of the justice system is partly based on the fact that the law is perceived to be handed out in an even and fair-handed fashion, and when evidence suggests the contrary, we really diminish the strength of our justice system. Research also shows us that being involved with the justice system has long-term negative outcomes for youth, in terms of education, employment and those types of things ... Finally, as a system and as a community, we want our response to juvenile crime to be based on the offense, to be based on the needs of our youth and not on the color of their skin or other factors like that."

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