A report released recently by the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Policy and Data (JJPAD) Board shows that racial and ethnic disparities in youth arrests remain persistently high, even as the total number of youth entering the state's juvenile justice system has gone down in recent years.
Looking at data from FY2021, the report Racial and Ethnic Disparities at the Front Door of Massachusetts’ Juvenile Justice System found:
- Black youth were over three times more likely to be the subject of an application for complaint, and Latino youth were almost twice as likely, when compared to white youth.
- Black youth in Massachusetts were over four times more likely to experience a custodial arrest (instead of a court summons) than white youth in Massachusetts. Latino youth were almost three times more likely to experience a custodial arrest than their white counterparts.
The report tests the actual impact of four potential factors that were possible causes of these disparities: differences in the severity and type of offenses youth are alleged of committing (“differential offending”), variations in regional police practices, and police department policies, practices and officer decision-making (“differential treatment”). The data analysis finds that each of the first three (severity, type, region) can partially, but not fully, explain racial and ethnic disparities in youth entering the juvenile justice system. National research supports the conclusion that police department policies, practices, and officer decision-making are also at least partially responsible for these disparities in Massachusetts.
The report offers some important recommendations to improve the juvenile justice system and reduce the system's disproportionate targeting of Black and Latino youth. These include:
- Increase investment in community-based programs that prevent delinquency and promote pro-social activities.
- Expand the Juvenile Diversion Learning Labs that offer alternatives to charging youth but with meaningful accountability.
- Require all Massachusetts police departments to uniformly report the use of summons to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) data system, which would allow the state to continue to monitor and analyze this data in the context of racial and ethnic disparities.
- Support local police departments in using their internal data to see if the disparities highlighted in this brief are replicated at the department and/or individual officer level to guide further practice recommendations, and to re-examine which department policies and practices may be contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in arrests.
The Children's League of Massachusetts is a member of the JJPAD Board, which is chaired by the Office of the Child Advocate. CLM actively participates in the JJPAD Data and Community-Based Intervention subcommittees and the Child Trauma Task Force.