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Disproportionate Minority Confinement in Massachusetts: Failures in Assessing and Addressing the Overrepresentation of Minorities in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Robin Dahlberg
Date Published
May 2003
30 pages
This report confronts the failure of Massachusetts to address the overrepresentation of minority youth in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice System and provides recommendations to remedy this problem.
While the United States Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law to every American, research has shown that in almost every State, youth of color are treated more harshly than White youth within juvenile justice systems. In 1992, Congress made an effort to address this disparate treatment by mandating that all States receiving funding through the Formula Grants Program of the Federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act must identify the extent of minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system, assess the underlying causes, and implement changes to correct the problem. This report contends that despite repeatedly being found in compliance with this mandate by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Massachusetts has not made any meaningful changes to correct the overrepresentation of minority youth in its juvenile justice system. According to the assessment by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which was based on relevant documents obtained from OJJDP and the Programs Division of Massachusetts’ Executive Office of Public Safety for the period 1995 through 2002, no single entity or individual within the Commonwealth has taken a leadership role to address this issue. Further, the Commonwealth has not identified the nature and scope of racial disparities within its juvenile justice system and, although plans have been developed to address minority overrepresentation, they have not been implemented. Finally, the ACLU contends that almost none of the Federal grant monies accepted by the Commonwealth have been allocated to the problem of minority overrepresentation. Seven recommendations are provided concerning how Massachusetts should now proceed to address racial disparities within its juvenile justice system. These recommendations include reconfiguring the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee to include a broad spectrum of individuals and agencies who work with at-risk youth; the Governor should direct this Advisory Committee to make the reduction of racial disparities in the system a priority; immediate steps should be taken to assess the root causes of the racial disparities in the system; capacity should be developed to monitor countywide trends on the overrepresentation of minority youth; and the Commonwealth should ensure that youth of color have adequate access to alternatives to incarceration. Tables, endnotes