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Un Cerd Report on Us Juvenile Justice 2007

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CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE LAW:
JUVENILE JUSTICE & THE U.S. FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH
OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE CONVENTION FOR THE
ELIMINATION OF ALL FORMS OF RACIAL
DISCRIMINATION 1
I.

INTRODUCTION

1.
The United States’ Periodic Report to the Committee significantly understates the extent
of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system overall, and fails to discuss anywhere in its
300 page report the practice of widespread and well-documented racial and ethnic discrimination
in its juvenile justice system, despite well-known racial disparities in the number of youth
targeted, adjudicated, sentenced and incarcerated. The Report’s passing mention of juvenile
facilities in the context of CRIPA enforcement simply highlights this failure.
2.
The juvenile justice system in the U.S. provides a stark example of racial discrimination,
with racially discriminatory effects evident in every State in the country but one. The juvenile
justice system serves as a the feeder into the adult criminal justice system, and has reached
deeply into the public education system to criminalize youth for minor and typical adolescent
behaviors, particularly in poor urban school districts with large numbers of students of color.
3.
Systemic discrimination in the juvenile justice system is a grave and decisive violation,
because justice for the child is an entry point for subsequent involvement in the adult criminal
justice system, and results in substantial negative and pervasive lifetime consequences including:
exclusion from education, jobs, college scholarships, and public housing, bars to enrollment in
the military, voting disenfranchisement, incarceration in dangerous conditions, and increased
1

This Shadow Report on Discrimination in Juvenile Justice was prepared by a Working Group that included: Addie
Rolnick of Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Endreson & Perry, LLP; Alison Parker of Human Rights Watch; Angela
Arboleda of National Council of La Raza; Bernardine Dohrn, Director of Children and Family Justice Center,
Northwestern University School of Law; Cindy Soohoo, Director of Bringing Human Rights Home Project, Human
Rights Institute, Columbia Law School; Dalia Hashad of Amnesty International, USA; Deborah LaBelle, ACLU
Michigan; Eric Tars of National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and Coalition for Human Rights at
Home; Francisco Villaruel of the Institute for Children, Youth, and Families and Julian Samora Research Institute of
Michigan State University; Jasmine Tyler of National Affairs of the Drug Policy Alliance; Jason Zeidenberg of the
Justice Policy Institute; Jenni Gainsborough of Penal Reform International; Jill Beeler of the Office of the Ohio
Public Defender; Katayoon Majd of the National Juvenile Defender Center; Liz Sullivan and Tiffany Gardner of the
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative; Luis Rodriguez, author and activist, LTia Chucha, Los Angeles;
Margaret Huang of the U.S. Racial Discrimination Program of Global Rights; Marsha Weissman of Center for
Community Alternatives; Michael Harris of The W. Haywood Burns Institute; Michelle Leighton, Director, Human
Rights Programs of University of San Francisco; Randolph Stone of the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic of
University of Chicago School of Law; Ryan King of The Sentencing Project; Tonya McClary, National Criminal
Justice Representative of American Friends Service Committee; Tshaka Barrows of The W. Haywood Burns
Institute; and the outstanding and timely legal research of law students Dominique Doan-My Thuy Nong and
Viniyanka Prasad, University of Chicago Law School; Erin White and her students at the University of Oregon Law
School; and Charla Strong, Christopher Vaughn and Kieran Wiberg,at Northwestern University School of Law.

1

risk of violence. 2 Although juvenile records are sealed for many purposes, youth adjudicated
delinquent are often subject to sentencing enhancements upon conviction of a subsequent crime,
as well as trial as adults for future offenses.
4.
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
recognizes that racial and ethnic discrimination is a barrier to the full realization of human rights,
and obliges states to nullify any law or practice which has the effect or the purpose of creating or
perpetuating racial discrimination.
5.
The continuing failure of the United States federal government to take concrete action to
rectify the many instances of racial discrimination that exist within the juvenile justice system is
a clear failure to meet its obligations under article 5 section (a) of the Convention to guarantee
people of all races “the right to equal treatment before the tribunals and all other organs
administering justice.” The Committee has elaborated on those obligations in General Comment
XXXI, especially paragraphs. 25 and 41.

II.

INITIAL POINT OF CONTACT FOR CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE
LAW

1.
Every stage of the juvenile justice system is marked by substantial racial disparities,
even when data is controlled for severity of the charge and prior delinquency record. Moreover,
the school system has become a significant entry point into the juvenile justice system through
disciplinary policies that mandate school suspension, expulsion, and arrest for an increasing
array of minor student behaviors and rule infractions. Following the passage of the Gun-Free
Schools Act in 1994, the receipt of federal funding was predicated on school districts’ creation of
“zero tolerance” policies resulting in mandatory expulsions for certain offenses. These policies
were initially directed at the possession of a weapon but have since been used to expel, suspend,
and arrest students for a variety of behaviors, the majority of which involved no violence
whatsoever.3
2.
Over 3 million students were suspended or expelled from elementary and secondary
schools in the U.S. in the year 2000. 4 U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights data
shows that while youth of color (Black, Latino/a, Asian American, and Native American youth)
comprised 38 % of the U.S. student population, they represented 52 % of students suspended or
expelled from school. The greatest disparities were found among Black students, who made up
17 % of the U.S. student population but 34 % of students subjected to out-of-school suspensions

2

Angela McGowan, et al, “Effects on Violence of Laws and Policies Facilitating the Transfer of Juveniles from the
Juvenile Justice System to the Adult Justice System”, Am.J.Prev.Med. 2007; 32(4S).
3 National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Deprived of Dignity: Degrading Treatment and Abusive
Discipline in New York City and Los Angeles Public Schools, March 2007.
4
National Center for Education Statistics Digest of Education Statistics 2006. September 17, 2007. Online at
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/dt06_149.asp and
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/tables/dt06_148.asp

2

and 30 % of students subjected to expulsions. 5
3.
School suspensions are linked to dropping out of school, which is in turn associated with
incarceration. The National Center for Educational Statistics found that 31 % of students who
had been suspended three or more times before the spring of their second year of high school
dropped out of school, compared to 6 % of students who had never been suspended.6 Students
who drop out of school are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated in
their lifetime7 – in fact, sixty-eight (68) percent of state prisoners dropped out of high school. 8
This phenomenon has come to be known as the “school to prison pipeline” in the U.S., reflecting
recognition of the direct and dire consequences of increased surveillance and harsher
punishments for minor disciplinary infractions in the public school system. Because youth of
color are disproportionately suspended and expelled from public schools, the consequences of
dropping out and the attendant increased likelihood of subsequent incarceration are not race
neutral. Fifty-six (56) percent of black youth in the juvenile justice system report a prior school
suspension. 9 One study estimated that, while 1 in 10 young (age 22-30) white high school
dropouts have been incarcerated by their early thirties, this figure increases to 52 % for African
American males. 10
4.
The juvenile and criminal justice systems also intervene directly in the school setting.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 1999 and 2003, the number of schools
reporting the regular presence of armed safety and police officers increased by 30%. While
national data is not available, information from individual cities shows an increasing number of
arrests of children while in school, again largely for minor misbehavior. For example, in 2003 in
Chicago, Illinois, 8,539 students were arrested in public schools, disproportionately youth of
color. 11 Almost 10% of those arrested were children age 12 or younger. Black students made up
77% of the arrests, but only 50% of the school population. Less than half of the students arrested
in Chicago schools are referred to juvenile or criminal court and only some 17% of the cases are
continued through trial, yet students are excluded from their schools, . In New York City, more
than 4,600 police officers work in public schools every day, representing a larger police presence
than exists in most cities in the U.S. 12 While New York City has refused to disclose the number
of arrests made in schools, a recent study by the New York Civil Liberties Union (“NYCLU”)
shows that increased law enforcement and school security measures are concentrated in schools
5

Office of Civil Rights 2000. Fall 1998 elementary and secondary school civil rights compliance report: National
and state projections. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education
6
Livingston, 2006, Table 27-2.
7
Martin and Halperin, 2006.
8
Harlow, Caroline Wolf. 2003. Education and correctional populations. Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice
Statistics.
9
Snyder, Howard N., and Sickmund, Melissa. 2006. Juvenile Offenders and Victims, 2006 National Report.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and
Delinquency Prevention
10
Westem, Petit, and Guetzkow, 2002.
11
Advancement Project. Judith A. Browne, 2005. Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to jailhouse Track.
Washington, DC,. Online at http://www.advancementproject.org/reports/FINALEOLrep.pdf .
12 Mukherjee, Elora 2007. Criminalizing the classroom: The over-policing of New York City schools. New York:
New York Civil Liberties Union.

3

The now notorious case of the
arrest of six African American
students in Jena, Louisiana, on
charges of attempted murder and
conspiracy, illustrates in dramatic
form what has become common
practice across the U.S.: arresting
Black students and bringing
whose student body is disproportionately made up of students of color: 82 % of
escalated charges for school
misbehavior, failing to charge
children attending schools with metal detectors were Black and Latino/a,
white students for similar
surpassing their 93% representation in the citywide school population. 13 The
behavior, and trying and
sentencing the students of color in
racial disparity in school arrests is not limited to large urban centers: in 2003,
adult criminal court. In 2006, an
according to the Des Moines Register, Black students who make up 15% of the
African American student asked
the principal at a Jena school
Des Moines, Iowa high school student population represented 33% of the 556
assembly if he could sit under an
arrests made in that city’s high schools.
oak tree outside the school,
known as a “white tree” because
only white students gathered
5.
Many arrests made in schools are for non-criminal activity, and are
there. He was told he could, and
carried out without regard for the age of the student or the context for the child’s he and several friends went to the
tree. The next day, someone hung
misbehavior. For example, in St. Petersburg, Florida in 2005, a five-year-old
two nooses from the tree, recalling
African American girl was arrested by police for throwing a tantrum and hitting
the over a century long history of
lynching and torture of African
an assistant principal. One month earlier in New York City a sixteen year-old
Americans subsequent to
girl was arrested for shouting an obscenity in the hallway. When the school
emancipation. School officials
identified three white students as
principal attempted to stop the police from detaining the girl, the principal and a
the perpetrators and the principal
school aide were also arrested. This underscores that girls, as well as boys,
recommended school expulsion.
He was overruled by a school
suffer from the consequences of racial discrimination in school discipline. In
superintendent who imposed only
Palm Beach County, Florida in 2003, where Black students are 64% of those
suspensions. Racialized fights
among students in the school
arrested in school but only 29% of the student population, 26% of arrests were
increased as a result, and, in
for fights or threats where there were no injuries or weapons, and 22% were for
December 2006, a white student
was hit and briefly knocked
miscellaneous, and highly discretionary, offenses such as “disruptive
unconscious by a Black student.
behavior”.14.
Justin Barker, the white student,
was hospitalized, treated for cuts
and bruises, and released within
6.
Beyond arrests in school, overall arrest rates of youth of color are
hours. Police then arrested six
Black students, ages 14-18, and
disproportionate to their representation in the general population. For instance,
the prosecutor charged them with
African American youth are 16 % of the overall population, but represent 28 %
attempted murder and conspiracy;
those charged in adult criminal
of children arrested in the U.S. 15
court were subject to sentences of
up to seventy-five years in prison.
In June, an all white jury
7.
Racial disparities in school suspensions, expulsions, and school and
convicted Mychal Bell, who was
community arrests are compounded throughout the juvenile justice system itself, 16 years old at the time of the
assault. He served ten months in
resulting in a cumulative impact. These disparities are particularly acute for
prison as the case gathered
African American youth, as indicated by Figure 1.
national attention. In the face of
mass demonstrations and
opposition, Bell’s charges have
been overturned; he has been
remanded to juvenile court for
retrial, and released on bail but
subsequently detained again. All
Black students continue to await
trial. In a bizarre act of denial of
the significance of the entire
incident, the city of Jena cut down
13
Mukherjee, Elora 2007. Criminalizing the classroom: The over-policing of New York City schools.the
New
oak York:
tree

New York Civil Liberties Union.
14 Advancement Project. Judith A. Browne, 2005. Education on Lockdown: The Schoolhouse to jailhouse Track.
Washington, DC. Online at http://www.advancementproject.org/reports/FINALEOLrep.pdf .
15
Arrest: National Council on Crime and Delinquency 2007. And Justice For Some. Washington, DC; Population:
Puzzanchera, C., Finnegan, T. and Kang, W. 2006. Easy Access to Juvenile Populations. Online at:
www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/

4

Figure 1. Sources: Population: Puzzanchera, C., Finnegan, T. and Kang, W. 2006. Easy Access to Juvenile
Populations. Online at: www.ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/ezapop/; Detained, Petitioned, Adjudicated, Transferred,
Placed: Stahl, A., Finnegan, T., and Kang, W. 2007. "Easy Access to Juvenile Court Statistics: 1985-2004." Online
at: http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/ojstatbb/ezajcs/; Arrest, Prison: National Council on Crime and Delinquency 2007. And
justice for some. Washington, DC: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

8.
Despite wholly inadequate data about other youth of color (Latino/as, Asian Americans,
Native Americans) in the juvenile justice system, when youth of color are added to the dire
discrimination against African American youth, the disparities become even more stark. For
example, the incarceration rate for African American young males in 2003 was 1,278 per
100,000, the rate for Latino male youth was 774 per 100,000 compared to the rate for white
youth of 305 per 100,0001.16

16

Sampson & Lauritsen, 1997.

5

Native Americans are too often an easily overlooked population of youth of color in the U.S., in part
because they make up a very small percentage of the total population (less than 1%), and in part because a large
proportion of the Native American population is concentrated in reservations located around the country. These
reservations operate independently in significant ways. In addition, in some areas, Native American youth in
urban areas may not be identified as Native American in the juvenile or criminal justice system. Although 1% of
the U.S. youth population in 2003, identified Native youth made up a full 2% of the cases referred to juvenile
courts. This is the single greatest increase among any racial group in the U.S. Similarly, in 2003, Native
American youth had a higher percentage of petitioned cases waived to adult criminal court, at 1.2% of all Native
American cases formally processed, than any other racial group in the U.S. When the numbers are disaggregated
by offense categories, Native American youth have the highest percentage of cases in every category except drug
crimes. Also in 2003, Native American youth had the highest percentage of adjudicated cases that resulted in a
placement out of the home (33%), which is the most serious sentence a juvenile court judge can impose, and they
had the lowest percentage of adjudicated cases that resulted in probation (56%). In some states, the disparities
are even worse. In 2002, Native American youth in North Dakota were incarcerated in adult correctional centers
at a rate of 16.7 for every 100,000 youth. By contrast, no other group experienced enough youth admitted to
adult corrections to register at over 0 per 100,000. This data indicates an alarming level of racial discrimination
against Native American youth in the juvenile justice system.
Statistics drawn from:
And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth in the Justice System,” published by the
National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), January 2007 http://www.nccdcrc.org/nccd/pubs/2007jan_justice_for_some.pdf

III

DISCRIMINATORY DETENTION OF CHILDREN

1.
From 1985 to 1995, the number of youth held in secure detention in the U.S. increased by
72%. Over the same ten year period, the racial proportions of these youth were reversed. In 1985,
56.6% of children in public detention centers were white and 43.4% were children of color. By
1995, the proportion of children of color in public detention facilities was 56.4%, while that of white
youth declined to 43.6%. 17 Similarly the rate of incarceration of girls grew 65% from 1988 through
1997. The rate of incarceration for African-American girls grew 123% compared to 41% for white
girls. 18

17

Census of Public and Private Juvenile Detention, Correctional and Shelter Facilities, 1985-1995, in Beyond
Detention: System Transformation through Juvenile Detention Reform, Bart Lubow, Pathways to Juvenile Detention
Reform, No. 14, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2007, at
http://www.aecf,.org
18
Bernardine Dohrn, All Ellas: Girls Locked Up, Feminist Studies 30 no. 2 (Summer 2004), 309.

6

A Comparison of Rates of Detention
United States: 
Rate of Detention Per 10,000 Youth (2003)
25

19.7

20
15
10

9.7

12.1

4.4

3.4

5
0
White

African

Latino

American

Native

Asian

American

Source: Sickmund, Melissa, Sladky, T.J., and Kang, Wei. (2005)
"Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Databook."

Figure 2.
2.
Nationwide, youth of color were overrepresented in the detained juvenile population at
3.1 times the rate of white youth, among commitments to public facilities at 2.9 times the rate of
white youth, and among private commitments at 2.0 times the rate of White youth. 19 Youth are
often unnecessarily or inappropriately detained at great expense, with long-lasting negative
consequences for both public safety and youth development.

3.
This increase in the use of secure detention for children awaiting trial, and the increase in
the detention of children of color, has resulted in severely overcrowded detention facilities. The
number of juvenile detention centers with populations over capacity rose by 642% in this
decade, from 24 to 178 institutions. Sixty-two percent of African American and Latino youth
who were detained were held in overcrowded facilities. 20

19

And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth in the Justice System,” published by the
National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), January 2007 http://www.nccdcrc.org/nccd/pubs/2007jan_justice_for_some.pdf
20
Ibid.

7

Detention Increased Despite Decreases in Juvenile Crime
Figure 3

8

Figure 4.
Source: Sickmund, Melissa, Sladky, T.J., and Kang, Wei. (2005) "Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement
Databook."

4.
In 1992, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) was launched to reduce the
detention of children, improve child outcomes, and preserve public safety, by testing new ways
to establish smarter, fairer, more effective and efficient juvenile justice systems. These sites have
achieved measurable results using strategies such as better screening tools, more reliance on
data, collaboration between systems and communities, and effective alternatives to incarceration.
Many of these results are well documented. For example, while implementing JDAI, sites
achieved the following:
•

In Cook County, Illinois, the average juvenile detention population dropped by 37
percent and youth arrests decreased by more than half;

•

Multnomah County, Oregon, has decreased its juvenile detention population by twothirds and decreased juvenile arrests by almost half; and

•

Bernalillo County, New Mexico, greatly reduced its average daily population in secure
detention between 1999 and 2003, while seeing a 26 percent drop in juvenile crime.

JDAI promotes changes to policies, practices, and programs to:
•
•
•
•
•

reduce reliance on secure confinement;
improve public safety;
reduce racial disparities and bias;
save taxpayer dollars; and
stimulate overall juvenile justice reforms.

Since its inception in 1992, JDAI has repeatedly demonstrated that jurisdictions can
safely reduce reliance on secure detention for children without increasing re-arrests or failure-toappear rates, despite the continued existence of law enforcement policies such as juvenile
curfews and increasing presence of law enforcement in schools that drove up juvenile detention
rates nationally. 21 There are now approximately 80 JDAI sites in 21 states and the District of
Columbia.
5. Notwithstanding these promising initiatives, under existing U.S. juvenile justice policies
detention continues to be the first resort of juvenile justice systems, rather than the last resort,
with dramatic and disproportionate impacts on youth of color.

21

M. Wordes, et al, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Evaluation Report, Oakland, CA, National Council on
Crime & Delinquency, 2000.

9

IV.

JUVENILE JUSTICE COURT PROCESSING

1.
From the inception of the modern juvenile justice system, the court processes and
procedures of the juvenile justice system have been tainted by the United States’ racial
discrimination and inequality. 22 This effect can still be seen in the way that juvenile cases are
handled in court today. As previously discussed, there is disproportionate contact between
children of color and the juvenile justice system. Therefore, court processes that rob children of
their due process rights have a disparate impact on children of color in the United States. Some
court practices may go beyond disparate impact and become examples of intentional as well as
systemic racial discrimination, such as prosecutorial charging and transfer decisions and judicial
transfer decisions which deny youth of color their right to equal treatment before the courts.
The lack of action by the U.S. government to counter the discriminatory effect of policies and
practices or to mitigate the harm done to youth of color represent a violation of both Article 2
and Article 5 (a) of the Convention.
2.
Because the United States has both a disproportionate number of people of color living in
poverty, and a disproportionate percentage of children of color involved with the juvenile justice
system, it stands to reason that the client population of many juvenile indigent defenders is
disproportionately African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American. Therefore,
state systems that under-resource and under-value the provision of specialized juvenile indigent
defense services have a disparate impact on children of color in the United States.
3.
Juvenile indigent defense systems are many and varied across the country with no
legally enforceable ethical standards and model rules of conduct Although each state has its own
unique challenges in providing quality counsel to youth, there are several common problems
across the states. 23 Throughout the United States, children’s access to qualified counsel is
impeded by:
•
Delayed appointment of attorneys assigned to represent children;24
•
High rates of waiver of counsel, such waiver often being encouraged by court systems;25
22

See James E. Starrs, A Sense of Irony in Southern Juvenile Courts, 1 Harv. CR-CL L. Rev. 129 (1966) (recounting
the use of juvenile delinquency charges to punish children for engaging in civil rights demonstrations and prevent
their further involvement in such activities).
23
See ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER ET AL., A CALL FOR JUSTICE: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS
TO COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS (1995), available
at http://www.njdc.info/pdf/cfjfull.pdf [hereinafter A CALL FOR JUSTICE]
24
Children and Family Justice Center and National Juvenile Defender Center, ILLINOIS: AN ASSESSMENT OF
ACCESS TO COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS (2007);
ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER ET AL., MONTANA: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO COUNSEL
AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS 29 (2003), available at http://
www.njdc.info/pdf/mtreport.pdf
25
ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER ET AL., JUSTICE CUT SHORT: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO
COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS IN OHIO 25 (2003),
available at http://www.njdc.info/pdf/Ohio_Assessment.pdf [hereinafter OHIO ASSESSMENT] (up to 80% waiver
rate). See also ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER ET AL., VIRGINIA: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO
COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS 23 (2002), available
at http:// www.njdc.info/pdf/Virginia%20Assessment.pdf [hereinafter VIRGINIA ASSESSMENT] (about 50%
waive right to counsel); National Juvenile Defender Center, FLORIDA: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO

10

•

•
•
•

Defenders with staggeringly high caseloads that prevent zealous representation of each
client;26
Inadequate resources allocated to defender offices and private conflict counsel, including
lack of investigators, motions, experts, and training in adolescent development,
preventing zealous advocacy; 27
A lack of training and supervision of juvenile defense attorneys, resulting in underqualified lawyers for children; 28 and
A court room culture that discourages juvenile defenders from advocating strongly for
child clients, by viewing delinquency courts as “kiddie courts” where adversarial
practices are out of place and defense attorneys are roadblocks to be overcome.29

4.
The consequences are dire when a child receives ineffective assistance of counsel, or no
counsel at all. Low-income children of color who are adjudicated face a much greater likelihood
of out-of-home placement. Once disposition is complete, juvenile adjudications have serious
collateral consequences, like: expulsion from school, limited job prospects, deportation,
disqualification and eviction from public housing, and ineligibility to serve in the military. For
children to suffer these consequences without the protection afforded by competent counsel is an
affront to due process that harshly affects children of color.
5.
The prosecutor’s function is also important because of the multitude of discretionary
decisions prosecutors make that result in racially disparate impacts on youth cases. Prosecutors
must decide whether to drop or file charges; the severity and nature of charges to file; whether to
offer plea deals, and the nature of those deals; what discovery to turn over; and if a child is
adjudicated, what sentences to recommend. These crucial decisions are made with little to no
oversight or accountability. 30 Non-transparent prosecutorial discretion contributes to the
disparities in outcomes for children of different racial backgrounds and ethnicities..
For example, prosecutors choose to bring African American and Latino youth into court
for formal processing more often than white youth [see the Jena 6 case above]. According to the
COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS 27-28 (2006),
available at http://www.njdc.info/pdf/Florida% 20Assessment.pdf [hereinafter FLORIDA ASSESSMENT] (up to
75% waive right to counsel in some jurisdictions).
26
VIRGINIA ASSESSMENT, at 20-21; ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER ET AL., WASHINGTON: AN
ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN JUVENILE
OFFENDER MATTERS 40-42 (2003), available at http://www.njdc.info/pdf/wareport.pdf; NATIONAL
JUVENILE DEFENDER CENTER ET AL., INDIANA: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO COUNSEL AND
QUALITY OF REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS 40-41 (2006), available at
http://www.njdc.info/pdf/Indiana%20Assessment.pdf ; FLORIDA ASSESSMENT, at 55.
27
VIRGINIA ASSESSMENT, at 26; OHIO ASSESSMENT, at 35
28
GEORGIA ASSESSMENT, at 2, 26-27; VIRGINIA ASSESSMENT, at 28-30; ABA JUVENILE JUSTICE
CENTER ET AL., MAINE: AN ASSESSMENT OF ACCESS TO COUNSEL AND QUALITY OF
REPRESENTATION IN DELINQUENCY PROCEEDINGS 26 (2003), available at
http://www.njdc.info/pdf/mereport.pdf [hereinafter MAINE ASSESSMENT] (no training is required or available)
29
A CALL FOR JUSTICE, at 9, 51; TEXAS ASSESSMENT, at 21; GEORGIA ASSESSMENT, at 2; MAINE
ASSESSMENT, at 27 (defenders friendly with court personnel); MARYLAND ASSESSMENT, at 4 (defenders who
zealously advocate for clients are seen as interfering); INDIANA ASSESSMENT, at 40
30
See Angela Y. Davis, Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor (2007)

11

2006 National Report on Juvenile Offenders, 66.1% of African American juveniles and 59.5% of
other children of color who were arrested for person offenses were petitioned for formal
processing, while only 56.7% of white juveniles were petitioned to court. 31 For drug offenses,
78.2% of African American juveniles and 56.1% of other children of color were petitioned for
formal processing, while only 55.8% of white youth were petitioned. 32
6.
In the case of young women of color, this bias may be compounded.33 Prosecutorial
discretion also results in a disparity in the treatment of male and female juveniles. Prosecutors
choose to pursue technical violations more often when committed by females than when
committed by males. For example, 20% of all females who violate their probation, parole or
court orders are held in residential placements, while only 12% of males with similar violations
are held. 34
Because of the numerous other decision makers and decision points in a juvenile case, it
is unclear how much of this apparent bias is attributable to prosecutorial discretion, alone. The
very opacity of prosecutors’ decision making renders those decisions difficult to analyze in this
way. However, transparency regarding the prosecutorial function would surely reduce the
overrepresentation of children of color in the juvenile justice system.
7.
Confidentiality protections limiting access to juvenile records – previously a defining
characteristic of juvenile court -- are eroding. All states allow some access to juvenile records to
courts, prosecutors, and schools. Children are increasingly subject to surveillance, fingerprinting
and DNA testing, and their data is stored in state repositories. A prior juvenile record may be
considered in sentencing in the adult system, increasing the likelihood of a custodial sentence. 35
Because a disproportionate number of children in the juvenile justice system are children of
color, this erosion of protections is particularly harmful to them.
8.
There are three main transfer mechanisms by which children are sent to adult court:
judicial waiver, wherein a judge makes the decision to transfer a child after a hearing; statutory
exclusion, which occurs when the legislation removes certain offenses and offenders of a certain
age from the jurisdiction of the juvenile court; and prosecutorial discretion or direct file. As
discussed above, many children of color lack effective legal representation. Qualified counsel is
essential to ensuring that judges are able to make appropriate decisions in transfer hearings, and
not decisions that are predicated on biases, inappropriate evidence, and prosecutorial
presentation, and a lack of argument on behalf of the accused youth. Statutory waiver often uses
factors that have a racially disparate impact and because they do not offer individualized
decisions; inappropriate children are brought into both the juvenile and the adult justice systems.
31

Juvenile Offenders and Victims, p. 179
Juvenile Offenders and Victims, p. 183
33 Laurie Schaffner, Girls in Juvenile Justice, University of California Press, 2006.
34
Juveniles in Corrections, p. 14
35
Sampson, Robert J. and Janet L. Lauritsen, 1997. Racial and ethnic disparities in crime and criminal justice in the
United States, Ethnicity, Crime, and Immigration: Comparative and Cross-National Perspectives, Volume 21 of
Crime and Justice, ed. Michael Tonry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Pope &
Feyerherm, 1990.
32

12

Prosecutorial discretion gives sole determination, with no showing, hearing, due process or equal
protection rationale, to the prosecutor.
9.
Transfer disproportionately affects youth of color.36 Some 50,000 children are
transferred to adult criminal court each year; in addition 200,000 children are sent to adult court
because their state laws set the upper age of juvenile court jurisdiction at 16 or 17, rather than 18
years of age.37 These numbers violate the US ratification of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, even with its reservation.38 Studies have shown that in California, as
many as 70 percent of the children transferred to the adult criminal system are Black or Latino.
Children of color in Illinois represent 9 out of 10 of the transfer cases.39 Nationally, research
has shown that in 2002, 73% of the 4100 new admissions to adult prisons of children under age
18 were children of color.40 Racial disparities are often most pronounced when children are
transferred based on drug or gun charges. For example, in 2003, white youth were 69% of the
petitioned drug cases in the country, and 58% of the transferred drug cases. Black youth, on the
other hand, were only 29% of the petitioned drug cases, but made up 41% of the transferred drug
cases.
10.
Transfer to adult courts and systems have negative consequences for all youth, and the
consequences are often compounded for youth of color. For example, youth who are sent to
adult court are more likely to recidivate than youth who remain in the juvenile system, more
likely to reoffend sooner, and to reoffend with greater severity.41 Further, in some states, adult
felony convictions result in the loss of voting rights. Adult convictions also reduce a youth’s
future employment opportunities and earnings potential, as well as impact their chances at higher
education, public housing, and military recruitment.

V.

SENTENCING OF CHILDREN

1.

Youth of color in the U.S. are sentenced to and incarcerated in juvenile detention

36 MIKE MALES & DAN MACALLAIR, BUILDING BLOCKS FOR YOUTH, THE COLOR OF JUSTICE: AN ANALYSIS OF
JUVENILE ADULT COURT TRANSFERS IN CALIFORNIA (2000), available at
http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/colorofjustice/coj.html; JASON ZIEDENBERG, BUILDING BLOCKS FOR YOUTH,
THE RACIAL IMPACT OF ILLINOIS’ PRACTICE OF TRANSFERRING YOUNG DRUG OFFENDERS TO ADULT COURT (2001),
available at http://www.buildingblocksforyouth.org/illinois/illinois.html.
37 Campaign for Youth Justice, “The Consequences Aren’t Minor: The Impact of Trying Youth as Adults
and Strategies for Reform, March 2007 at 8-9; Woolard, J.L., Odgers, C., Lanza-Kaduce, L., & Daglis, H. ,
“Juveniles within Adult Correctional Settings: Legal Pathways and Developmental Considerations,
International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 4(1), 1-18 (2005).
38

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at
52, UN Doc. A/6316 (Dec. 16, 1966), Art. 10(2) (b).; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, New
York, 16 December 1966. Declarations and Reservations: United States Reservation (5), at
http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/ratification/4_1.htm
39
Campaign for Youth Justice, Executive Summary: The Consequences Aren’t Minor at 2 (2007)
40
National Council on Crime and Delinquency, And Justice for Some at 34 (2007)
41 Bishop, Donna M., Frazier, Charles E., Lane, Jodi, and Lanza-Kaduce, Lonn. (January 2002). Juvenile Transfer
to Criminal Court Study: Final Report. pg. 15.

13

facilities and adult prisons in far greater numbers than white youth and far above their
demographic representation. Of all children of color, African-Americans are particularly
disadvantaged in the sentencing process, and disproportionately receive the harshest sentence
possible: to die in prison.
2.
Juvenile Justice Systemic Discrimination. African American and Latino/a youth
regularly receive more severe sentences than white youth across all types of crime categories
adjudicated in juvenile courts. Given that probation is the least severe sentence and out-of-home
or “residential” placement the most severe, in 2003, 63% of white youth received probation
compared to 58% of youth of color. For drug offenses, 67% of white youth received probation
compared to 58% of youth of color. These percentages were reversed for out-of-home
(residential) placement: 38% of Native Americans, 37% of Asian Pacific Islander youth, and
28% of African-American youth were placed out of the home, compared to 25% of white
youth.42 Youth of color are also held in custody and prosecuted “as adults” in criminal courts
more often than white youth and given adult sentences.43 African American youth are nine
times more likely to be brought into custody than white youth, even though they make up just
16% of the total youth population (compared to 78% white youth).44
3.
Vast Discriminatory Variation among States. On a state-by-state basis, the racial
disparities in sentencing within the juvenile justice systems are startling. Though African
Americans comprise 16% of the youth population in the U.S., they make up 38% of those
confined in state correctional facilities. The latest “relative rate index” data (a standardized
index that compares rates of racial and ethnic groups compared to whites)45, reflects
overrepresentation of youth of color in detention in juvenile detention for every state in the
country but one. For example, in South Dakota, the relative rate index for African Americans
compared to whites in detention is 47 to 1; in North Dakota it is 21 to 1; Wisconsin 18 to 1; New
Jersey 15 to 1; Wyoming 12 to 1; Nebraska 11 to 1 and New Hampshire 10 to 1.46

37 National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “And Justice for Some,” pp. 21-22 (Jan. 2007) (hereinafter “NCCD
2007”).
43 National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “And Justice for Some,” supra note 1.
44 Howard Snyder and Melissa Sickmund, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, at 2.
45 The custody rate in the index is the number of juvenile offenders in detention in 2003 per 100,000 juveniles aged
10 and over to age 18 generally.
46 Id. at 24 (citing Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement 1997, 1999, 2001, and 2003. OJJDP (2005); Online
analysis package OJJDP (2006)).

14

4.
Discrimination in Juvenile Drug Sentencing. Although African American and white
youth use and sell drugs at similar rates, African Americans are committed for drug offenses at
five times the rate of whites.

Figure 6: Reported Juvenile Drug Use and Drug Sales by Race; Juveniles Detained for Drug
Offenses by Race

Sources: SAHMSA, 2005 Note: This is data for 12-to 17- year olds; Sickmund, Melissa, Sladky, T.J., and Kang,
Wei. (2005) "Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement Data book."

5.
Youth incarcerated in adult prisons. As a result of racial disparities in transfer decisions
discussed above, children of color are also much more likely than white youth to be incarcerated
in adult prison. As Figure 8 below shows, 26 out of every 100,000 African American youth are
serving time in adult prison while for white youth the rate is only 2.2 per 100,000. On a stateby-state basis, these disparities are magnified as shown in Figure 2, below. The U.S.
government is aware of this disparity, as are most Americans. A recent survey indicated that
60% of Americans believe that non-white youth are more likely to be prosecuted in adult
court.47 This is clearly not “equal treatment before the tribunals” as required by Article 5(a) of
the treaty.

Figure 7: Youth in Adult Prison by Race and Ethnicity: Rates of New Commitments to Prison
by Offense

47 See B. Krisberg and S. Marchionna, “Attitudes of Voters toward Youth Crime and the Justice System,” on a
national survey commissioned by NDDC (Feb. 2007, http://www.nccd-crc.org/nccd/pubs/zogby_feb07.pdf).

15

Custody Rate (per 100,000)

2.2
Person
2.2
2.1
Property

0.6
0.2

9.2

1.9

0.3

5.6

0.6
0.3
0.1

Drug

0.3
0.6
1.1
0.1

Public Order

0.0

White

25.7

5.4
5.7

2.9

5.0

10.0

African American

15.0

20.0

Latino

25.0

30.0

Native American

Produced by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “And Justice for Some” (2007). Rates are based are
calculated based on numbers per 100,000 youth of that race in the population.

Moreover, in open violation of U.S. legal standards and international law, children of color are
disproportionately incarcerated in adult prisons, despite undisputed research documenting that
children held in adult facilities are subject to greater incidence of physical violence and rape,
commit or attempt to commit suicide at greater rates, and suffer lifelong consequences.48 As
indicated below, the rates of African American youth in adult prisons is more than 44 per
100,000, while that of white youth is 5 per 100,000.

Figure 8: Rates of Youth in Adult Prison by Race and Ethnicity, by State

48 Campaign for Youth Justice, Executive Summary: The Consequences Aren’t Minor (2007).

16

Youth in Adult Prison: Rates of New Prison Commitments by State
and Race/Ethnicity, 2002 (per 100,000 youth)

United States
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
California Youth Authority
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

White
5
8.5
15.5
0
11.4
1.5
0.4
3.6
0
0
0
8
7.6
0
0
7.6
0
13
0
0
5.6
0.7
3.6
0
6.7
1.6
18.1
14.5
0
5.2
6.4
2.1
0.5
0
2.2
16.5
0
4.9
4
16.3
1
0
30
2.6
2.7
4.2
3.4
0
1.3
5.8
0
8.1
0

African
American
44.1
41.5
73
0
59.9
19.3
6.4
46.1
0
0
0
67.6
32.5
0
0
74.7
0
81
0
2.3
33.2
0
53.7
0
46.8
20.4
59.6
40.3
0
49.7
8.5
0
14.5
0
41.2
100.5
0
42.1
14.5
142.6
19.6
0
100.7
96.5
17.3
29.3
0
0
25.6
60.7
0
154.6
0

Latino
7.4
0
0
0
0
7.1
2.1
17.6
0
0
0
8.6
10.8
0
0
15.5
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
5.8
9
19.4
11
0
12.9
22.7
28
5.3
0
13.4
33.1
0
3
6.7
11.3
8.9
0
33
0
0
0
0
0
6.7
15
0
50.8
0

Native
American
9.2
0
20
0
0
3.3
0
21.3
0
0
0
0
37.2
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
28.9
0
0
0
75.5
0
0
0
0
0
36
16.7
0
8.3
26.8
0
0
0
7.5
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
109.6
0

Asian and
Pacific
Islander
2.5
0
0
0
0
1.9
1.5
7.9
0
0
0
0
0
1.2
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
4.2
7.2
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
12.1
0
0
0
14
3.7
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
10.8
0
16.4
0

Total
11.8
18.9
17.5
0
20.8
5.4
1.7
9.1
0
0
0
20.9
16.7
0.8
0
21.4
0
14.5
0
0.2
16.4
0.7
20.1
0
13.8
3.7
36.5
18
0
9.2
10.6
2.7
3.5
0
11.7
40.7
1.4
10.7
5.7
19.2
3.9
0
56.4
4.3
5.8
9.7
2.9
0
7.5
9.8
0
24.4
0

Note: Rates are calculated per 100,000 youth age 10 to 17 years of age in the general population. This table
reflects the racial/ethnic proportions of youth in adult prisons when race/ethnicity is known. Racial categories (e.g.
White youth) do not inclu
Source: National Corrections Reporting Program, 2002. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Easy Access to Juvenile
Populations [Online analysis package] OJJDP (2006).

Produced by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “And Justice for Some” (2007).

6.

Juvenile Sentences of Life Without Possibility of Parole. Not only are youth of color
disproportionately sentenced to adult prisons, they also disproportionately receive the toughest
17

adult sentences. For example, the most severe sentence a child can receive is life without the
possibility of parole (“JLWOP”). 49 While the juvenile death penalty has been struck down in the
U.S., the JLWOP sentence condemns children to die in prison. Stark racial disparities in the
imposition of the JLWOP sentence are evident nationwide: under age 17, African American
youth are 19% of the population but 65% of youth serving JLWOP sentences. In California,
African American youth are 20 times more likely than white youth to receive the LWOP
sentence, even though they make up only 8% of the youth population. 50 Latino youth are 5
times more likely receive an LWOP sentence than white youth. 51
7.

Other State examples include:

Alabama: Youth of Color are:
36% of the youth population; 52
73% of youth serving LWOP sentences (49% are African American); 53 and
100% of youth serving LWOP for non-homicide offenses. 54
Michigan: Youth of Color are: 55
27% of the population; 56 and
71% of youth serving LWOP sentences.
Mississippi: African American youth are:
45% of the population; 57 and
75% of youth serving LWOP sentences (compared to 20% of white youth). 58
8.
The United States does not systematically collect and evaluate national data
disaggregated by race and gender for juvenile offenders serving the life without parole sentence
in violation of its obligations. Yet the data that exists suggests serious racial discrimination in the
imposition of this harsh punishment. Though this information is public and the discrimination
widely known, the U.S. government has failed to ensure that states take measures to redress the
discriminatory practices, as it is required to do under articles 2 and 5 of the Convention.
Figure 9: Ratio of Rates of African American and White Youth Sentenced to Life Without
Possibility of Parole, by States

49

The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty
International, 2005 at htto://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/us100518.htm
50
See, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, at 3 (population statistics), supra note 5 and Human
Rights Watch, "Child Offenders Sentenced to Life without Parole in California," (working title) (forthcoming
October / November 2007, data as of April 2007).
51
Id.
52
Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, at 3, supra note 5,.
53
Equal Justice Initiative, “Cruel and Unusual: Sentencing Children to Die in Prison” (forthcoming 2007).
54
Id.
55
Deborah LaBelle, Esq., Michigan, findings from local investigation (2007).
56
Note 7, supra, for 0-17 years of age.
57
Id.
58
Mississippi Department of Corrections, data released via Freedom of Information Act request and updated with the
Office of Capital Defense Counsel in Mississippi, H. Thomas, NAACP, 2007.

18

Source: Data provided by thirty-eight state correctional departments and additional other
sources for the states of Alabama and Virginia. Population data were obtained from the U.S.
Census Bureau, State Population Data Sets, available online at:
http://www.census.gov/popest/states/asrh/files/SC-EST2003-race6-AL_MO.csv and
http://www.census.gov/popest/states/asrh/files/SC-EST2003-race6-MT_WY.csv, accessed on
March 4, 2005. Calculations are based on Census 2000 data. The Rest of Their Lives: Life
Without Parole for Child Offenders, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, 2005 at
htto://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/us100518.htm,
9.
Sentencing children to die in prison not only violates the Convention, but also breaches
other U.S. treaty obligations. In 2006, the U.N. Human Rights Committee found the U.S. to be
in violation of its treaty obligations by trying children as adults and imposing JLWOP sentences.
The Committee further stated that the U.S. “should ensure that no child offender is sentenced to
life imprisonment without parole, and should adopt all appropriate measures to review the
situation of persons already serving such sentences.59.
10.
Similarly, the Committee Against Torture also expressed concern “at the large number of
children sentenced to life imprisonment in the State party (art. 16). The State party should
address the question of sentences of life imprisonment of children, as these could constitute
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”60
59

See C. De la Vega and M. Leighton, Special Report on Human Rights Violations in Sentencing Children to Die in
Prison, submitted to U.N. Human Rights Council (2007), USF School of Law and Human Rights Advocates (citing
HRC Report on the U.S., CCPR/C/USA/CO/3/Rev.1, para 34).
60
Id. (citing Committee Against Torture review of U.S. report, CAT/C/USA/CO/2, para 34).

19

11.
While institutions in the U.S. have documented racial disparities in sentencing of
juveniles over the past decade, the U.S. government has done little to address the most serious
discriminatory practices leading to this disparity. Despite reauthorization passage of the 2002
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act, the government does not ensure that racial disparity is
comprehensively collected, monitored and analyzed, nor does it ensure that effective action is
taken by states to address the offending problems in their jurisdictions as required by the
Convention. Moreover, data on racial disparities in the imposition of the draconian sentence of
life without parole on juveniles is neither collected nor made public by the federal government or
the states in any systematic manner, not is it being addressed. Without such a systematic effort,
the U.S. cannot effectively ensure the eradication of discrimination as required by article 2 of the
Convention.

VI. DISCRIMINATORY HARM DUE TO THE INCARCERATION OF
CHILDREN IN CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES (training schools, reform
schools, juvenile correctional facilities, youth prisons, residential facilities)
1.
The fact of Racial Discrimination in the incarceration of children who have been
adjudicated in juvenile or criminal court is undisputed. The incarceration rate for African
American young males in 2003 was 1,278 per 100,000, the rate for Latino male youth was 774
per 100,000 compared to the rate for white youth of 305 per 100,000.61
2.
In a 1995 study, NCCD found that African American and Latino youth had higher
incarceration rates in state public facilities than White youth when controlling for current offense
and prior admissions.
•

When White youth and African American youth were charged with the same
offenses, African American youth with no prior admissions were six times more
likely to be incarcerated in public facilities than White youth with the same
background.

•

Latino youth were three times more likely than White youth to be incarcerated.

•

Admission rates to public facilities were seven times greater among African
American youth with one or two prior admissions than among White youth in
1993. The admission rate for Latino youth was twice the rate of White youth.

•

African American youth were confined on average for 61 days longer than White
youth, and Latino youth were confined 112 days longer than White youth.62

61

And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth in the Justice System,” published by the National
Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), January 2007, available at http://www.nccdcrc.org/nccd/pubs/2007jan_justice_for_some.pdf
62
And Justice for Some: Differential Treatment of Minority Youth in the Justice System,” published by the National
Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), January 2007, available at http://www.nccdcrc.org/nccd/pubs/2007jan_justice_for_some.pdf

20

Figure 11: Juvenile Confinement (post-conviction) by Race and Ethnicity
Custody rate (per 100,000)
100
90
84
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10

14
9

13
5
1

0
Male
White

3

1

2

0

Female
African American

Latino

Native American

Asian and Pacific Islander

Produced by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, “And Justice for Some” (2007). Rates are based are
calculated based on numbers per 100,000 youth of that race in the population.

3.
By the time a youth is sentenced to a correctional facility, the racial disparities that
pervade the juvenile justice system have often reached their peak. Prisons are widely seen as
suitable places for youth of color, and all too often they are sent there for technical violations,
such as minor violations of parole. Youth prisons are often constructed to look similar to adult
prisons, featuring razor wire, severely restricted movement, use of solitary confinement, and
dangerous disciplinary restraints. These facilities by design offer no opportunity for
rehabilitative programming, nor do they foster a humane environment that focuses on the goal of
rehabilitation and reintegration. Rather these facilities expose youngsters to the most inhumane
violent abusive and deadly environments in our society.
4.
Youth prisons in the U.S., which are disproportionately populated by youth of color, are
characterized by chronic violence and abuse, both among the youth and between the staff and the
youth 63 , as described below. Accountability and grievance mechanisms are faulty or nonexistent, and youth, their families and the staff must consider the very real possibility of
retaliation when deciding whether to report an incident. The systemic neglect which
characterizes the juvenile correction system often gives rise to utter misery and life threatening
depression for the youth sentenced to such facilities, as well as a loss of humanity on the part of
staff who become accustomed to violence and abuse, whether through direct participation or
63 Margaret Rosenheim, Franklin Zimring, David Tanenhaus, Bernardine Dohrn, eds., A Century of Juvenile Justice,
University of Chicago Press, 2002; See also, See the Texas Youth Commission sex abuse scandal, cover-up and
collapse, noting high level administrators’ indictments for sexual assault, a subsequent finding that 65 TYC
employees had felony records, and the release of 226 children whose sentences had been improperly “extended.”
Dallas Morning News and Texas Observer reports, 2007.

21

observation.
Figure 12

Percent

Racial Characteristics of Male Youth in Public Juvenile
Correctional Institutions, 1880 to 2000
100
90
80
70
60
50
40
30
20
10
0

White

Non-white
U.S. Non-white

1880 1890 1904 1910 1923 1933 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Sources: Cahalan, M. W. (1986). Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States. Rockville, MD: Westat, Inc.; US Census.

5.
For instance, the state of Texas is home to one of the worst youth incarceration systems
in the country, the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). Overwhelmingly, the children confined in
Texas are youth of color. On March 16th 2007 US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee wrote a
letter to then Attorney General Roberto Gonzalez requesting he “take immediate action to open a
federal investigation into the allegations of sexual and physical abuse at TYC facilities.” She
goes on to say that “Texas state officials have opened at least 27 investigations into a variety of
complaints including inmate-on-inmate assaults, rampant sexual and physical abuse by both
inmates and staff allegedly covered up by agency employees, dilapidated facilities, extremely
high staff turnover rates, lack of uniform standards, and fear that staff may experience retaliation
if they raise significant concerns.64” Congresswoman Lee outlined the various ways in which
human rights are violated within these facilities; the data only reinforces her point. This table
produced by the Dallas Morning News outlines the total number of incidents reported vs. the
number of incidents that have been confirmed from Jan. 2000 through March 15th 200765:
64

Letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez United Stated Department of Justice from Congress of the United
States House of Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee 18th District, Texas. March 16, 2007
65
Dallas Morning News Website - http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/graphics/0407/tyc/

22

Assaults:
Unnecessary force:
Youth harm self/others:
Inadequate supervision:
Excessive force:
Inappropriate relations or physical contact with inmate:
Inappropriate staff sexual conduct:
Other:

3,850 - 449 confirmed
2,610 - 937 confirmed
2,610 - 946 confirmed
1,772 – 716 confirmed
1,692 – 181 confirmed
939 – 344 confirmed
938 – 99 confirmed
1,884 – 782 confirmed

6.
The state of Louisiana is home to another example of the horrors that exist within the
youth prisons of the US. A report titled “Just Shut It Down: Bringing Down a Prison While
Building a Movement” written by Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children
(FFLIC), a grassroots organizations focused on shutting down the Tallulah Correctional Center
for Youth, outlines the very personal way these abuses occur and discusses the damage done to
the families involved. What follows is an excerpt from that report describing a killing that
occurred not at Tallulah but at another youth prison within the state of Louisiana.
” On May 1, 2003, 17-year-old Emmanuel Narcisse was killed at the hands of a youth
prison guard at the Bridge-City Correctional Center for Youth. One deadly blow to the
head knocked Emmanuel onto the ground and unconscious. Within minutes, Emmanuel
was dead. Emmanuel’s death dramatized in a profound and tragic way the ultimate
consequence of Louisiana’s violent and misguided juvenile justice system. FFLIC
immediately reached out to Emmanuel’s mother and family, providing support and
encouragement, as well as helping them to express their outrage in speaking about the
pain of losing a child.”66
FFLIC’s campaign to shut down the Tallulah facility was a success; however the facility where
Emmanuel was killed is still open.
7.
The families of the youth in these prisons often suffer and must take on the huge burden
of caring for a loved one who is locked in cage at such a young age. Issues of proximity
challenge the family’s in-terms of visitation and communication. Low income families can not
afford the cost of calls or the cost of transportation to youth prisons that are often located far
from their homes. Once these family members arrive they may or may not get the chance to
meet with their son or daughter. They are often searched and spoken to as though they had
committed a crime.
8.
Books Not Bars, a grassroots organization focused on shutting down the California
youth prison system formerly known as CYA, produced a report outlining the problems as well
as three potential solutions. The report begins by describing the plight of a family trying to find
out what happened to their child.
“At 9pm on Mother’s Day this year, Hilda received a phone call from a doctor stationed
at the youth prison where her son has been incarcerated for the last two years. Her heart
almost stopped as the doctor said that her son had attempted suicide that morning. He
66

Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children “Just Shut It Down: Bringing Down a Prison While
Building a Movement”

23

was alive, but he was in critical condition. He tried to hang himself and was now on a
respirator. Frantic, Hilda immediately tried to see her son. Youth prison staff on the
phone transferred Hilda back and forth from person to person, giving her little
information and no help getting in to see her son. Hilda kept calling everyone she could
think of that may be able to help her get a visit. After four days of stonewalling, Hilda
finally found Books Not Bars, a nonprofit juvenile justice advocacy organization. Books
Not Bars staff was able to contact senior management and get Hilda permission to see
her son.”67
These experiences illustrates the way in which discriminatory youth facilities work to inflict pain
on the youth and their families as well as the general disregard for the lives of young people on
the inside. Eighty-six percent of youth held in California’s youth prisons hold youth ranging in
age from 12 – 25 years with approximately 86 percent of those youth are youth of color, mostly
Latino and African American.

VI. THE NEED FOR ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING AND
SANCTIONING OPTIONS FOR CHILDREN IN CONFLICT WITH THE
LAW
1. “Best Practices” to Ameliorate Racial Disparities
There are practices, both systematic and programmatic, that could be adopted by the
United States to ameliorate racial disparities in the U.S. juvenile justice system, and specifically
efforts to reduce the inappropriate reliance on detention. We briefly summarize four examples of
successful efforts to reduce juvenile racial discrimination and disparities: The Annie E. Casey
Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI); the work of the W. Haywood
Burns Institute; the efforts of the Center for Young Women’s Development; and the Center for
Community Alternatives’ Youth Advocacy Project.
a. In 1992, the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) 68 was launched to
reduce the detention of children, improve child outcomes, and preserve public safety, by testing
new ways to establish smarter, fairer, more effective and efficient juvenile justice systems. These
sites have achieved measurable results using strategies such as better screening tools, more
reliance on data, collaboration between systems and communities, and effective alternatives to
incarceration.
Many of these results are well documented. For example, while implementing JDAI, sites
achieved the following:
•

In Cook County, Illinois, the average detention population dropped by 37 percent and
youth arrests decreased by more than half;

67

Books Not Bars – Three Solutions to CA’s Youth Prison Crisis: Fewer Youth Inside, More Family Access, and
Build Regional Alternative Programs
68
JDAI is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, at
http://www.aecf.org/Home/MajorInitiatives/JuvenileDetentionAlternativesInitiative.aspx

24

•
•

Multnomah County, Oregon, has decreased its detention population by two-thirds and
decreased arrests by almost half; and
Bernalillo County, New Mexico, greatly reduced its average daily population in secure
detention between 1999 and 2003, while seeing a 26 percent drop in juvenile crime.

JDAI promotes changes to policies, practices, and programs to:
•
•
•
•
•

reduce reliance on secure confinement;
improve public safety;
reduce racial disparities and bias;
save taxpayers’ dollars; and
stimulate overall juvenile justice reforms.

Since its inception in 1992, JDAI has repeatedly demonstrated that jurisdictions can safely
reduce reliance on secure detention. An evaluation of these JDAI project sites confirms that
reducing reliance on secure detention can be accomplished without increasing re-arrests or
failure-to-appear rates, despite law enforcement policies that drove up juvenile detention
nationally. 69 There are now approximately 80 JDAI sites in 21 states and the District of
Columbia. However, detention continues to be the first resort of juvenile justice systems, rather
than the last resort.
b. The W. Haywood Burns Institute provides technical assistance and training to
reduce the over representation of youth of color in the juvenile justice system. The Burns
approach is similar to that of JDAI insofar as it involves convening a group of key stakeholders
and using data, focusing however these strategies on the specific issue of disproportionate
minority confinement. The Burns Institute process also works to engage stakeholders from
communities of color - the parents and community organizations that are central in the lives of
children in the juvenile justice system. The Burns Institute provides training and support so that
these often unrecognized stakeholders can fully participate in the efforts to reduce the racial
disparities. Community members are trained in using data to analyze the juvenile justice system,
and supported in their efforts to participate with the traditional stakeholders - prosecutors, public
defenders, police, probation, political leaders, and service providers - in a process that focuses
specifically and intentionally on reducing racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.
The work of the Burns Institute (BI) has also yielded impressive results. In Peoria, IL, the
BI reduced the percentage of African American youth sent to detention form local schools 43%
over a twelve month period by getting the local schools to change their practices so they stopped
sending students to detention for school fights and minor altercations with teachers and staff.
Figure 13 Peoria IL

69 M. Wordes, et al, Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative Evaluation Report, Oakland, CA, National Council
on Crime & Delinquency, 2000.

25

60

School Year Comparison by Race
Aggravated Battery to School Personnel
2004/05 = 63 Total
2005/06 = 41 Total

56

43% AA Reduction

50

40

32

89%
30

78%

2004/ 05
2005/ 06

20

9

10

6
22%

1

10 %

1%

0

0

AA

C

H

Moreover, BI reduced the racial disparity at a key decision making point in Louisville, KY. After
Louisville began a new practice of allowing youth with outstanding warrants to be considered for
immediate release after consulting with the on duty Judge, it became clear that White youth were
being released at a higher rate than similarly situated African American youth. Over time the
release rates were brought to virtual parity thus eliminating the previous disparity.

Louisville, KY

Louisville, KY

0.40
0.35
0.30
0.25
0.20
0.15
0.10
0.05
0.00
1/
06
1/ 4/3
06
/
-5 06
/
0
1/
06 2/0
6
-6
1/ /12
06
/0
6
-8
0/ /13
06
/
-1 06
0/ /16
06
/
-2 07
0/ /14
06
/
-3 07
10 /15
/
/0
6- 07
6/
8/
07

Percent

Release rate by race

White release rate
Black release rate

26

Figure 14

c. Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) encourages young women to
move beyond survival and become leaders and advocates for incarcerated and formerly
incarcerated young women. Although young women and girls represent almost 30% of the total
juvenile arrests, they have access to a fraction of the prevention and alternative to incarceration
programs available to boys. Nationwide, they receive only 2% of services. Because of the lack of
alternative programs, jobs, and housing, young women and girls find themselves locked up or on
probation longer for lesser crimes than their male counterparts. CYWD’s programs offer young
women a way out of repeated incarceration and the street economy and into self-sufficiency,
wholeness, and advocacy. They understand that a huge component of this work is self-care and
healing which mean many different things to the young women. For some, it may be eating right,
for others it may mean finding reliable childcare so that they can fully participate in our
programs. Each of their programs promotes wellness and healthier living. 70
d. The Center for Community Alternatives (CCA) reflects how individual program
efforts reduce the use of detention and impact the disparity detention of youth of color in New
York State. CCA used data to identify characteristics of youth detained - their charges and
socio-demographic characteristics. Through careful targeting of youth who would otherwise be
in detention, the youth served by CCA mirror the population in detention: youth of color charged
with robbery. In New York City, 98 percent of children in CCA alternative programs are youth
of color. CCA partners with public defenders and the courts, providing individual case
advocacy and case planning to encourage courts to place youth in CCA’s ATD program. The
program then provides community support and supervision, leadership development, educational
support and referrals to other services. CCA staff report to the courts on youth compliance.
The success of this program is demonstrated by data that show that less than 20 percent
of program youth are rearrested compared to a 60 percent re-arrest rate for youth released from
the State’s juvenile facilities. 71
e. The Missouri Division of Youth Services. For the small number of juveniles who
have to be detained, the state of Missouri serves as a national model for juvenile rehabilitation.
Characteristics of the model include small groups, treatment, and aftercare. Correspondingly,
Missouri has a significantly lower recidivism rate among juveniles than other states that measure
the recidivism rate similarly. 72 For the fiscal year of 2006, the recidivism rate for Missouri youth

70

Adapted from http://www.cywd.org/programs.html

71

Bruce Frederick and Roy, Dina, 2003. Recidivism Among Youth Released From The Youth Leadership Academy To The City
Challenge Intensive Aftercare Program, (Albany, N.Y.: NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, 2003).

72

Mendel, Dick. 2003. “Small is Beautiful: The Missouri Division of Youth Services.” Advocasey: Juvenile
Justice at a Crossroads. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation.
http://www.aecf.org/upload/PublicationFiles/juvenile%20justice%20at%20crossroads.pdf

27

was 8.7%. The rate has ranged between 6% and 9% from 2002 through 2006.73
2. Recommendations for Expansion of “Best Practice” Approaches
The above examples would have more widespread impact if supported by law reform,
policy changes and funding. To comport with the Convention provisions, the U.S. should
provide leadership and support to state and local efforts by:
•
•
•

•
•
•
•

Adopting legislation that explicitly establishes and operationalizes standards for the least
restrictive alternative for juveniles, arrest, detention and incarceration as a last resort and
for the shortest appropriate period of time.
Providing support for indigent juvenile defenders including training on unique
developmental needs of children, trial practice skills, and attorney, investigative and
social work resources to improve representation of children in the juvenile justice system.
Providing training for judges, probation officers, and prosecutors on the developmental
needs of children, alternatives to detention and incarceration, and public data, solutions
and monitoring of the problem of racial discrimination and disparity in the juvenile
justice system.
Ensuring vigorous enforcement of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Act to require
states to not only document racial disparity in the juvenile justice system, but to address,
demonstrate and document a reduction in such disparity.
Initiate a moratorium on construction of detention and correctional facities for youth, and
devote the equivalent resources to community-based support for youth and their families
in the community.
Use of objective screening instruments to reduce racial discrimination in detention and
incarceration decisions for children.
Devote legislative, financial and educational resources to alternatives to juvenile
detention and incarceration and increases in community involvement in alternatives.

CONCLUSION
While the U.S. State Department’s official report to the Committee failed to make any
mention whatsoever of the juvenile justice system, racial discrimination characterizes the
juvenile justice system and remains a deep and pervasive crisis at every level. Youth of color,
particularly African American youngsters are more likely to come into contact with the system,
and once they are in they are more likely to face the harshest consequences. Only a serious
commitment by the U.S. government to recognize and address this problem, to take both the
purpose and effect of racial discrimination and disparities as grave violations of the promise of
justice, and to develop effective solutions can bring the U.S. government into compliance with
its Convention obligations. Local and national non-governmental organizations across the U.S.
have begun the work of developing alternatives to the current system’s harsh and discriminatory
policies and practice. These efforts need to be encouraged, funded, and supplemented by
73

Missouri Department of Social Services, Division of Youth Services, Annual Report Fiscal Year 2006 available at
http://www.dss.mo.gov/re/pdf/dys/dysfy06.pdf

28

national and state commitments. Only by promptly rectifying the glaring practices of racial and
ethnic discrimination in the juvenile justice system can the U.S. assure that all of its youngest
citizens receive “equal treatment before the tribunals.”

29

 

 

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