Race and Policing
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Bias against youth of color has deep historical roots in this country with overrepresentation of black youth and disparities in treatment originating with the first juvenile court's inception. The view of youth of color as different and deserving of harsher treatment was intensified in the 1980s with the perpetuation of the "superpredator" myth—that a new breed of brutal youth, commonly viewed as youth of color, were going to terrorize the country. Disparate treatment of youth of color is no doubt impacted by the racism that continues to infect our society—most recently and glaringly represented by the August 2017 demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. While explicit and structural racism contribute to the widespread racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice systems across the country, a more insidious contributor to this problem is that of implicit bias. This snapshot will provide a brief overview of this issue as well as resources to find more information.
Between 1990 and 2008, the jail population in the United States doubled from 400,000 inmates to 800,000. During much of this period, crime rates were steadily dropping, falling to levels not seen in decades. The number of defendants held in jail awaiting disposition of their charges drove much of the increase in the jail population. Up until 1996, jail populations were comprised evenly of about 50 percent sentenced and 50 percent pretrial inmates. Beginning in 1996, the number of pretrial inmates grew at a much faster pace than the sentenced inmates. Currently, 61 percent of inmates in local jails have not been convicted, compared to 39 percent who are serving sentences. This shift has resulted in a dramatic change in how jails are being used.This White Paper takes the position that most of the money spent to house defendants who cannot post a bond is unnecessary to achieve the purposes of bond – to protect the safety of the community while the defendant's case is pending, and to assure the appearance of the defendant in court. With local jurisdictions laying o" teachers, police o#cers and !re!ghters and cutting back on vital services because they do not have the money to pay them, this waste of money is unconscionable.
Fueled by increasingly punitive approaches to student behavior such as "zero tolerance policies," the past 20 years have seen an expansion in the presence of law enforcement, including school resource officers (SROs), in schools. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of school resource officers increased 38 percent between 1997 and 2007. Some cities, like New York City, employ more officers in schools than many small cities' entire police force.With this rapid increase in the presence of law enforcement, including SROs, in schools, districts from around the country have found that youth are being referred to the justice system at increased rates and for minor offenses like disorderly conduct. This is causing lasting harm to youth, as arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system disrupt the educational process and can lead to suspension, expulsion, or other alienation from school. All of these negative effects set youth on a track to drop out of school and put them at greater risk of becoming involved in the justice system later on, all at tremendous costs for taxpayers as well the youth themselves and their communities.