|University of Virgnia study: Racial disparities seen in juvenile justice locally|
|Monday, 09 April 2012 10:20|
By Samantha Koon for The Daily Progress
After a University of Virginia study indicated that black youth are disproportionately represented in the local juvenile justice system, a Charlottesville-based attorney is asking the City Council to put together a task force to address the issue.
“This is an issue that’s ripe to be addressed right now,” defense attorney Jeffery E. Fogel said. On April 16, Fogel and other supporters of the proposed Task Force on Race Disparity and Disproportionality in Youth Services will address councilors on the need for such a group.
A group of UVa graduate psychology students, under Dick Reppucci’s leadership, conducted a study of nearly 300 juvenile offenders in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The information was gathered in 2007, but the results of the study were not finalized until last spring.
“The results strongly suggested that African-American and Caucasian youth in the juvenile justice system show similar risk patterns across family, school, individual and juvenile justice variables,” the study’s final report said. “Therefore, any disparities with regard to race appear to be the result of patterns of arrest and subsequent decision making regarding consequences.”
“The provocative data is that if you take a look at kids — black and white — they are being picked up for the same thing. What’s happening is many more blacks end up linked to the system,” Reppucci said in a recent interview.
Reppucci’s study indicated that white juvenile offenders in Charlottesville were more than four times more likely to be diverted from the system than black juvenile offenders.
According to the study, black youth in Charlottesville are 1.5 times more likely to be placed on probation compared with white youth, and 1.5 times more likely to be put on probation or detained. Similarly, black minors are more than 1.5 times more likely be detained in Albemarle County than their white peers.
The study analyzed risk factors for delinquent behavior — such as having a parent in prison or coming from a single-parent home — and found that white and black youth faced a similar number of risk factors. Still, there remains a higher concentration of black offenders facing punishment.
“What that doesn’t tell is why that is, or where those decisions are being made,” explained Angela Ciolfi, legal director at the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Just Children program.
Ciolfi has worked alongside Mike Murphy, Charlottesville’s director of human services, to apply for a grant through the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, a Washington-based organization that focuses on juvenile justice issues. CCLP was supposed to notify grant recipients on Friday, but will instead get in touch with winners sometime this week.
“We feel pretty strongly that this is something the city should devote resources to whether we get the grant or not,” Ciolfi said.
If the grant is approved, the proposed task force could receive as much as $25,000 per year for up to two years to supplement its work. The proposed task force would also receive guidance from CCLP as to what data to collect and what questions to ask, as well as help analyzing data once it is collected, Ciolfi said.
Still, Ciolfi said that there is “no reason” the city cannot approve the task force without an outside grant.
In his letter to Mayor Satyendra Huja dated March 6, Fogel asked the council to consider forming the task force, and added that he does not “see the need for budgetary resources in order to initiate the task force.”
Both Fogel and Ciolfi said they envision the task force as a diverse group of community leaders and citizens with an interest in juvenile justice. They both said they would like to see police officers, lawyers and even judges take part in the task force, in addition to public-interest groups and ordinary residents.
Jim Shea, a member of a local support group for the formerly incarcerated and their families called Believers and Achievers, said that he and other members of the organization have strong feelings about racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“This is like a refugee population. These are people who are under attack. And they feel it that way, though they might not necessarily put it in those terms,” Shea said. “Most white middle-class people have no idea what’s going on with this population.”
Shea added that sentiments from members of Believers and Achievers “[don’t] come from concept as much as experience.”
“These are the people that are most affected by the way the criminal justice system sucks these young black boys into some form of custody while they are in school,” Shea said.
Ciolfi said that she thinks the issue has “been studied a lot,” and that she and the other supporters of the proposed task force are ready to start taking “action steps.”
Data collection, she said, should be the first step.
Fogel also expressed interest in recording and analyzing new data, such as “the racial breakdown of people being stopped on the street.”
“One of the jobs of this task force will be to identify what types of information we want to have,” he said.
M. Rick Turner is president of the local NAACP. “That study and that data, as horrifying as it is, is not new data,” Turner said.
“Charlottesville, Albemarle, Greene and many places in the South do not want to talk about the disparity in the data because they know what they do,” he said. “They know — from the University to the community — they are racially profiling men and women at random … they do it, and they intimidate African-American people.”
The NAACP and other community organizations plan to host a town hall meeting to discuss racial profiling in the local community at 7 p.m. Wednesday at First Baptist Church on West Main Street. Turner said the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida will be the focus of the meeting, but that Reppucci’s study may come up in conversation.
He added that he thinks Fogel has the ability to organize the task force and collect the data necessary to begin a “fruitful discussion” of racial profiling in the area.
Fogel admitted that racial disparity issues in the justice system “are not easy things to turn around.” He said he had no concrete suggestions as to how to improve the situation, but he did say that the proposed task force might recommend new police tactics.
“I think what we want is to get all of us in a room together and start talking,” he said. “Obviously, the first stage is to get the council to agree to this.”
The proposed task force is on the agenda for the April 16 council meeting. Supporters, including members of Believers and Achievers, are expected to speak out in favor of the task force.