The Case Against Juvenile Incarceration

I haven’t41YmY8hezdL even listened to this 37-minute NPR interview with Nell Bernstein, the author of “Burning Down The House: The End of Juvenile Prison.” But I feel like I’m going to be mad. From the article:

The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain, and 18 times that of France. It costs, on average, $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up — far more than the U.S. spends on a child’s education.

Yep, I’m getting hot.

“The greatest predictor of adult incarceration and adult criminality wasn’t gang involvement, wasn’t family issues, wasn’t delinquency itself,” Bernstein says. “The greatest predictor that a kid would grow up to be a criminal was being incarcerated in a juvenile facility.”

Now let’s put this in some local context. For years, Shelby County Commissioner Henri Brooks alleged that Shelby County Juvenile Court was discriminating against black kids. The U.S. Department of Justice investigated and whaddya know? From the 2012 DOJ investigation:

…[W]e find that JCMSC’s administration of justice discriminates against Black children…

We also have reason to believe that JCMSC engages in conduct that violates the constitutional guarantee of Equal Protection and federal laws prohibiting racial discrimination, including Title VI.

Title VI… Title VI… where have I heard that before? Oh, I know. Brooks’ most recent comments on the racial disparity in municipal contracts! Back to the DOJ investigation:

Specifically, Black children were one third less likely to receive a warning than White children, even after accounting for other factors such as prior contacts with the court, the severity of the charges, gender, and education…

There’s more:

We also found a disparity in the initial detention of Black children as compared to White children. The case data showed that a Black child was more than twice as likely to be detained as a White child. This number remained unchanged after accounting for other legal and social factors…

And more:

We also found a substantial disparity in the rates of transfers to adult court. The RRI shows that JCMSC transfers Black children to adult criminal court more than two times as often than White children….

And this matters because, as the investigation’s report says:

Similarly, decisions to transfer children to adult court based on race, while obviously violative of equal protection, also have serious criminal justice consequences. Studies have found that children who are transferred have a higher likelihood of re-offending and continuing anti-social behaviors.

I wrote about Brooks and juvenile court here. And about municipal contracts here. And was on TV talking about the racial disparity in municipal contracts here.

If you’re not angry, you should be.

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