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Dawn Turner Headshot

Can You Keep a Secret?

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The juvenile justice system is flawed. It is not only flawed, it is seriously flawed. Rather than serving as a deterrent to a youth's future run-ins with the law and adult incarceration, the juvenile justice system often serves as a training ground for youth offenders.

In my previous blog for the Los Angeles County Education Foundation (LACEF), "Probation Youth: Not Your Problem?" I highlighted the need for providing such young people with opportunities for change once they are released, e.g. school credits, job certification, transitional support, and psychological and health support. Failing to provide these support services will only lead to recidivism and their graduation to adult incarceration. African Americans and Latinos represent an overwhelming segment of the juvenile justice system. The following provides greater insight into the disturbing statistics of our nation's broken juvenile justice system. According to California's Legislative Analyst's Office:

  • In 2005, males accounted for about 74 percent of all juvenile arrests in California. Males accounted for more than 80 percent of all juvenile felony arrests.
  • Most juveniles arrested in 2005 were age 15 through 17. Only 2 percent of juvenile arrests were in the 10 and 11 age group.
  • Black and Hispanic juveniles represented about one-half of California's juvenile population age 10 through 17 in 2005, but they accounted for almost two-thirds of juvenile arrests.

Prior to any encounter with law enforcement, African-American and Latino youth within urban communities have limited resources and access to opportunities for summer jobs or extra-curricular activities within urban communities. It stands to reason and statistical support that those already limited resources and opportunities become infinitesimal post incarceration.

How serious is it? According to the most recent nationwide study, "How Does Juvenile Crime Affect Communities" and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, in 2008, juveniles accounted for 47 percent of all arson arrests and 38 percent of all vandalism arrests. In the same year, juveniles accounted for 27 percent of robbery and burglary arrests, 26 percent of larceny arrests, and 25 percent of motor vehicle theft arrests. Also in 2008, juveniles accounted for 16 percent of all violent crime arrests, and for 22 percent of all weapons-related arrests.

So the questions are -- What are we doing to stem this tide? What can we do as a society to invest our tax dollars in the positive future of these youths versus investing our tax dollars in the building of more group homes, juvenile halls, and probation camps? Will we become concerned when it comes knocking at our door in the form of a broken in car, stolen purse, or illegal drug activity in our neighborhood?

Our nation's youth, especially in California, need our voices, our advocacy, and our efforts. We have the power to stem the tide of juvenile incarceration. So I ask again -- Should you keep this secret? I hope not. Let's find ways to invest and believe in our youth, and champion alternatives for reform of the juvenile justice system.