Community Tools to Change Mass Incarceration of Youth of Color

Last month the W. Haywood Burns Institute for Juvenile Justice, Fairness and Equity (BI) conducted a webinar for the Healing Violence Alliance, highlighting the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system and how these disparities relate to community-based efforts to address violence. If you missed it, you can download the webinar.

The BI offers a historical perspective on racism in the youth and adult justice systems, detailing how current policies exacerbate disparities created by the racist practices of our not-so-distant past.  Systemic barriers, such as the zero tolerance policies, the criminalization of age-appropriate behavior, and the disparate use of law enforcement resources make it more likely that people of color are disproportionately affected by the collateral consequences of incarceration.

These consequences include disruptions in education, reduced income, loss of employment opportunities, separated families, housing evictions and other barriers that affect individuals, harm families and negatively impact community well-being. The individual, social and cultural trauma caused by mass incarceration and its collateral consequences are significant issues that system and community leaders must consider to effectively address the complex origins of community violence.

BI staff also outline their community-driven, data-informed approach to reducing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. The BI believes that successfully reducing disparities requires collaboration between system and community stakeholders. This collaboration must include substantial community involvement throughout the decision-making processes, full utilization of available community resources, and the development of new community-based interventions. Additionally, by emphasizing the ongoing use of quantitative and qualitative data during the decision-making process, advocates can make targeted improvements to policies that perpetuate existing disparities while avoiding many of the pitfalls associated with racial equity reform.

In addition to the BI webinar cited above, here are links to informational resources on working collaboratively with communities of color to reduce racial and ethnic disparities:

Stemming the Rising Tide: Racial and ethnic disparities in youth incarceration and strategies for change — This report highlights troubling trends in the incarceration of youth of color and offers several strategies for addressing the causes of racial inequities that promote restorative justice and overall well-being for youth of color.

What Happens When the Bargain of Civil Society is Breached? — In many communities across this nation, children are expected to exhibit all of the characteristics of childhood—good and bad—as part of their normal adolescent development. However, in far too many communities of color, we have eliminated the space for children to exhibit age appropriate behavior by criminalizing their conduct through fear-based policies and practices. In this piece, BI founder, James Bell, discusses why we must apply a child well-being framework to young men of color.

A Shared Sentence: The devastating toll of parental incarceration on kids, families and communities — “More than 5 million U.S. children have had a parent in jail or prison at some point in their lives. The incarceration of a parent can have as much impact on a child’s well-being as abuse or domestic violence. But while states spend heavily on corrections, few resources exist to support those left behind. A Shared Sentence offers commonsense proposals to address the increased poverty and stress that children of incarcerated parents experience.”

Racial Equity Tools — “Racial Equity Tools is designed to support individuals and groups working to achieve racial equity. This site offers tools, research, tips, curricula and ideas for people who want to increase their own understanding and to help those working toward justice at every level – in systems, organizations, communities and the culture at large.”

Racial Equity Toolkit — “Racial equity tools are designed to integrate explicit consideration of racial equity in decisions, including policies, practices, programs, and budgets. It is both a product and a process. Use of a racial equity tool can help to develop strategies and actions that reduce racial inequities and improve success for all groups.”