(WWLP) – New research released by the state Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Board (JJPAD) shows that racial and ethnic disparities in youth arrests remain high, even though the total number of youth entering the system has gone down substantially in recent years.

“While the Commonwealth has made great progress over the past decade in reducing the total number of youth coming into contact with our juvenile justice system, we have more work to do in addressing the substantial racial and ethnic disparities that still remain,” said Maria Mossaides, Director of the Office of the Child Advocate and Chair of the JJPAD Board. “We know the harmful effects that any justice system involvement can have on kids, which is why best practice, as well as state law, recommends issuing court summons instead of placing a child in handcuffs or a locked facility whenever possible. We hope the recommendations in this report provide guidance to the state and police departments on some initial steps to take to work toward an equitable juvenile justice system.”

The Board found that disparities are greatest at the “front door” of the system, showing an overrepresentation of Black and Latino youth being arrested or summonsed to court.
The analysis indicates there is a combination of elements stemming from societal factors and differences in how police officers respond to Black and Latino youth compared to white youth.

According to the JJPAD Board, the following are previous findings:

  • Compared to white youth in Massachusetts, Black youth were over three times more likely to be the subject of an application for complaint, which is the beginning of the Juvenile Court process, and Latino youth were almost twice as likely.
  • Black youth in Massachusetts were over four times more likely to experience a custodial arrest (instead of a court summons) than white youth in Massachusetts. Latino youth were almost three times more likely to experience a custodial arrest than their white counterparts.

“The Legislature tasked the JJPAD Board with analyzing disparities in our juvenile justice system and making recommendations for steps we can take to reduce them. There are many drivers of these disparities, as described in this report, and by better understanding what they are and how they interact, we can more effectively address them. Importantly, there are specific actions both the state Legislature and local police departments can take, and we urge them to do so,” said Melissa Threadgill, Director of Strategic Innovation at the Office of the Child Advocate.

To reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the Juvenile Justice system the Board recommends Increasing investments in community-based programs aimed at reducing system involvement, and re-examining police department policies and practices when enforcing public safety.