DOJ: Racial Discrimination at Juvenile Court That Serves Ferguson, St. Louis

Racial Discrimination at Juvenile Court


WASHINGTON, July 31 (UPI) — A juvenile delinquency court that services an area including Ferguson, Mo., discriminates against black children, a U.S. Department of Justice report released Friday says.

The review found the Family Court of the 21st Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri — the St. Louis County Family Court — allegedly violated the constitutional rights to due process for children in delinquency cases.

 After investigating nearly 33,000 juvenile cases from the court, the DOJ found there was “disparate treatment of black children,” a news release announcing the report said.

Black juveniles are 1.46 times more likely than their white counterparts to have their cases handled formally even after factoring in variables like gender, age, risk factors and severity of allegations, the DOJ found. Additionally, black children are 2.5 times more likely to be detained pretrial than white children.

After adjudication — the juvenile version of conviction — black children are 2.74 times more likely to be placed in detention than white youth, and white youth are more likely to be placed in a less restrictive setting, the report said.

“Based on these data, and the fact that the disparities are unexplainable on grounds other than race, we find Equal Protection violations at each of these decision points,” the report said.

“The findings we issue today are serious and compelling,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. “Missouri was at the forefront of juvenile corrections reform when it closed its large juvenile institutions and moved to a smaller, treatment-focused system and we are hopeful that Missouri will rise to this challenge to, once again, be a leader in juvenile justice reform.  This investigation is another step toward our goal of ensuring that children in the juvenile justice system receive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection under the law.”

The findings come on the heels of a speech made by President Barack Obama earlier in July in which he decried the criminal justice system’s practice of discriminating against black and Latino offenders even at the juvenile level.

“If you are a parent, you know that there are times where boys and girls are going to act out in school,” he said July 14 at a NAACP meeting. “And the question is, are we letting principals and parents deal with one set of kids and we call the police on another set of kids. That’s not the right thing to do.

“We’ve got to make sure our juvenile justice system remembers that kids are different,” Obama added. “Don’t just tag them as future criminals. Reach out to them as future citizens.”

St. Louis County Family Court takes cases from a number of communities in the greater St. Louis area, including Ferguson, a city at the heart of recent discussions about racial inequity. The report was released about a week before the anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old, unarmed black man who was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 8.

Brown’s death and a lack of criminal charges against Wilson sparked protests in Ferguson and across the globe, and has been at the forefront of an ongoing call for better race relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

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