PJC In The News

Morgan State forum illuminates justice system's racial disparity

By Yvonne Wenger, Baltimore Sun

October 3, 2012: Nearly every juvenile housed in Baltimore's adult prison in August -- 41 of 42 -- was black, an issue that brought more than 300 stakeholders together Wednesday at Morgan State University to discuss racial disparity in the criminal justice system.

Lisa M. Garry, a project director for the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said the purpose of the Disproportionate Minority Contact Conference was to address the discrepancy in the number of minorities incarcerated, the societal consequences of inequity, and the actions needed to create safer communities while rehabilitating youth offenders.
 
"So much of the work is changing our behavior, changing our policies, our practices and expanding our options," said Garry, who leads agency reform projects. "The biggest enemy of any reform is the perception of public safety. We have this mindset that the kids we are encountering in our system are high-risk, felony-type offenders. We have this boogeyman, so to speak, that we're always fighting."
 
Nationally, African-American juveniles account for 30 percent of youths who are arrested, although only 17 percent of American youths are black. African-Americans also account for 62 percent of all youths who are prosecuted in the adult criminal system, according to Jessica Sandoval, national field director for the Campaign for Youth Justice.
 
A tough-on-crime movement has sent more juvenile offenders to adult jails since the 1980s, and now states are altering laws to find ways to stop young offenders from committing future crimes, Sandoval said.
 
Camilla Roberson, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, said advocates in Maryland want to end the practice of automatically putting juveniles in the adult system when they commit certain crimes. And, in the short term, she said, the state should stop housing juveniles in adult prisons, at least until after a conviction.
 


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