Once again, this columnist takes on the silent danger to Blacks in our community. We have heard a lot of discourse over the years about Black male versus White male adults being incarcerated for similar crimes at a higher rate.
How about juveniles? White juveniles are taken home for first-time thefts. However, Black juveniles have been introduced into the Juvenile Justice Center for first-time same offenses.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi ordered a decision point analysis (DPA) of his juvenile division for the year 2012. For a copy of the DPA email me at the address at the end of this column.
Because this series is three parts, it’s imperative that we gather background information relevant to County Attorney John Choi. I have done so, with a question and answer.
LR (Lucky Rosenbloom): When did you become aware of the disparity issue?
JC (John Choi): Some of my top priorities included addressing racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In 2007, I worked with the St. Paul NAACP, University of St. Thomas Law School, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Police Chief John Harrington to address, among other things, the increasing numbers of obstructing legal process (OLP) arrests in St. Paul. The vast majority of these arrests involved persons of color and too many African American men. Because of our efforts, OLP arrests were reduced in Saint Paul by 30 percent.
LR: Knowing the above-mention, what action did you take?
JC: I directed my staff to conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of decision points (or use of discretion) within our juvenile division to better understand the racial disparities that are a part of our entire criminal justice system. The report reminds us of something we already knew; far too many minority kids are entering the criminal justice system as compared to the overall demographics of Ramsey County.
Most importantly, we learned that many youth of color were not succeeding in diversion programs. Upon further review, it was clear that success and failure rates were influenced greatly by the fact [that] many youth of color who were offered an opportunity for diversion never responded to our communication and therefore did not get the benefit of diversion.
LR: What are you prepared to do in the next seven months?
JC: We have already taken action by completing a request for proposal process for juvenile diversion service providers that articulated important community expectations around eliminating racial disparities as an outcome of our youth intervention and diversion efforts and revamping our contracts with those service providers to include performance outcomes beyond measuring recidivism.
In addition, we are expecting that all service providers incorporate more staff outreach rather than simply relying on mailed letters to families so that they respond to our offer of diversion. We believe that this “hands on” effort will improve success rates for youth of color.
LR: What do you see going forward?
JC: More strategic alternatives need to be in place between the time of an incident and the juvenile’s first appearance. Community involvement is critical in everything we do.
A perfect example of this is how we revamped our juvenile diversion contracts through a community engagement process. I will continue and step up my personal involvement with Juvenile Detention Alternative Intervention (JDAI) in the coming years.
It appears that the County Attorney has taken a proactive position on this issue with his ordering of the DPA of 2012. In my next column, I’ll look at community members dealing with this issue and provide their comments with respect to the DPA and Mr. Choi’s efforts.
Lucky Rosenbloom welcomes reader responses to 651-917-1720, or email him at [email protected].