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Racial disparities in juvenile justice system addressed

Sgt. Andre Parker, a co-facilitator of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, speaks Wednesday night at the Color of Justice Screening and Community Forum, a public forum held at the Community Health Center in Middletown that addressed the racial disparities in the state’s juvenile justice system.Catherine Avalone - The Middletown Press

By Alex Gecan, The Middletown Press

POSTED: 11/14/13, 6:11 PM EST |

MIDDLETOWN >> To illustrate the stark racial disparities in the state’s juvenile justice system, think about this: While non-white kids make up 57 percent of the patients at Riverview Hospital, a youth psychiatric facility, non-white kids at the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, a secure facility for delinquents, make up 86 percent of the kids serving there.

It’s a reality that child advocates, city officials and roughly 100 residents gathered to discuss Wednesday.

“White kids are seen as having a problem,” said Sgt. Andre Parker, a co-facilitator for the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance. “Black kids are seen as being the problem.”

Proportionally speaking, minority kids statewide are more likely to face criminal punishment — and more severe punishment — than their white counterparts, according to data compiled by the Office of Policy and Management and Department of Children and Families.

City and school officials in Middletown, for their part, have proactively addressed potential biases in juvenile justice here in town. Superintendent Patricia Charles has said the school district is aware of racial disparities — such as the achievement gap between Bielefield school’s Hispanic students and the rest of the student body — and is seeking grant money, such as the Right Response Grant, to alter discipline practices in order to decrease racial disparities in schools.

Coordinated by the city’s Youth Services Bureau, the meeting centered around the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network documentary The Color of Justice, which argued that although students of all ethnicities commit crimes of the same sort with the same frequency, minority kids are drastically more likely to enter the juvenile justice system.

Mayor Dan Drew recounted a story of a city police officer who elected to let a minimal offender go with a warning rather than derailing his entire life — but telling the young man that if he got in trouble again, he would not find such leniency.

“We all do things like that, and we all deserve a chance to learn from our mistakes,” said Drew.

“We have to give kids the tools they need to get out of these fixes they find themselves in,” said Charles.

Parker, a sergeant with the Mashantucket Pequot Police and himself a father of six, said, “With children, if you’re in a position of authority, we can decide what the outcome will be.

“As adults, we can hold kids accountable for their behaviors, and we can do it in ways that are more successful than actually putting them in the juvenile justice system.”

Parker said that black kids are four times more likely than whites to get arrested, and Latinos three times as likely as whites.

Lara Herscovitch, deputy director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, said that the prevailing wisdom — that poorer, inner-city kids are the ones committing crime — was downright false, and that the racial disparity of kids in the system was actually worse in non-urban areas. “There is no youth crime wave,” said Herscovitch.

Herscovitch applauded Middletown school officials and police for hammering out an agreement to deal with youth incidents. “Your leadership is very much addressing these issues here locally,” said Herscovitch, but it doesn’t end there.

But according to national surveys, said Herscovitch, kids nationwide report pretty much the same behavior. “Had I been a young black man instead of what I look like, I would have been very deep into the Juvenile Justice System,” said Herscovitch.

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