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Statistics show Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is leaving black kids behind

Statistics show Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is leaving black kids behind

Picture of Kate Howard
[Photo by OccupyRenoMediaCommittee via Flickr.]

Kentucky’s juvenile justice system is trying to keep kids out of detention and give more youth a second chance, but challenges abound.

The state has long been one of the most prolific in locking up youth on minor offenses and a recent reform has lessened — but not eliminated — the problem.

First-time offenders are no longer locked in detention. Arbitrarily keeping kids on probation until their 18th birthdays is a thing of the past. Diversion programs allow children to bypass court and are automatically offered for certain offenses.

But preliminary studies have found an unintended side effect of these reforms: As the situation improves for white youth, black youth are disproportionately left behind.

This disparity has been proven through recent court statistics but hasn’t been more fully explored. A legislative effort that aimed to eliminate this disparity was watered down. Some other legislators dismiss the idea of disproportionate effects in the juvenile justice system as misleading or untrue.

For my 2017 National Fellowship, I want to find out whether black and white children in Kentucky’s juvenile justice system experience different outcomes. Is there a divergence in how often children of color are prosecuted? Do some policies harm families throughout the state and create a negative long-term impact that follows a youth through the rest of his or her life?

The potential impact of this disparity can’t be overstated. Statistics show diversion is successful and could mean the difference between college and prison for these youth. 

[Photo by OccupyRenoMediaCommittee via Flickr.]

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