Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Race & Juvenile Delinquency

Racial disparities in juvenile sentencing - The news media (e.g., Pioneer Press) reported the results of a Wilder Research study of this issue in Dakota County. For example, black youths make up 3% of young people in Dakota County, but 21% of the young people in the criminal courts and corrections systems.

Other studies, in Minnesota and elsewhere, have produced similar, overall findings; those findings are not particularly surprising. However, what's notable - and very commendable - for the Dakota County commitee of public officials who are studying the issue are two features of their initiative.

First, the research did not just stop at identifying disparities; it dug deeply to identify potential causes. What might be the factors that explain these differences? What occurs in the system, and where, to produce the differences? The study showed, for example, that black youth did not commit more serious crimes than white youth committed.

This type of in-depth look is rare; the willingness of public officials to take such a look is admirable.

Second, this study will not receive some publicity and then move off the radar screen. The committee intends to determine how things can become better, and take action. They have committed themselves to research, learning, and improvement. They want to make fair decisions, in the public interest, based on sound research evidence. They seem open to doing their part, and also to inviting others to collaborate with them.

It will be exciting to work with them and to see how they do this.

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