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Report Reveals Stark Racial Disparities in Utah’s Juvenile Justice System

This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2017 Spring Newsletter >>

STATE Dispositions 2015 AllBWe have known for some time now, thanks to data available from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, that Utah school kids are disciplined very differently, by teachers and administrators, depending on their skin color, race and ethnicity. Now we can say with certainty that once those youth are referred to the juvenile justice system, those racial disparities continue and increase.  

There is no evidence that kids of different races engage in misconduct in different proportions, only that they are caught and punished disproportionately.  For example, Latino/Hispanic youth make up just 17% of the statewide youth population, but they represent 23% of all youth coming into initial contact with the system, and 32% of the incoming youth who are referred to court.  That means Latino/Hispanic youth in our state are overrepresented by nearly 100% among youth appearing before a juvenile court judge.  

For Black/African-American youth, the disparities are even worse. These youth make up just 1% of the entire statewide youth population,  but they represent 3% of all youth coming into initial contact with system, and 5% of the incoming youth who are referred to court. Five percent may not seem like that much, but this means Black/African-American youth are overrepresented by 400% among youth appearing before a juvenile court judge. 

These statistics are detailed in a new report released in February by the ACLU of Utah, in partnership with multiple community stakeholders, including the YWCA of Utah, Voices for Utah Children, Racially Just Utah and Ogden Branch NAACP. Early release copies were made available as part of Racially Just Utah’s Breaking the Pipeline Symposium at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. 

Using data collected and compiled by an official Juvenile Justice Working Group, assisted by the Pew Charitable Trust, our report reveals stark racial disparities including the following: 

Black/African-American youth make up 1% of Utah’s youth population, but they represent 12% of all kids placed with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services through the juvenile justice system. 

DisparitiesSoFar PreDispo 1CIn the Third Judicial District (comprised of Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele Counties), Latino/Hispanic youth make up 24% of the youth population - but 52% of all “secure care” dispositions resulting in out-of-home detention for these youth. 

In the Eighth Judicial District (comprised of Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah Counties), Native American youth make up 9% of the overall youth population, yet 41% of “secure care” disposition are imposed on Native American youth.

The ACLU of Utah and its partners used this report to successfully advocate for HB 239 Juvenile Justice Amendments, which will require many reforms to the system that we believe will help to reduce these disparities and offer equal justice for all Utah youth. We will be closely following the implementation of the reforms contained in HB 239, and regularly checking back on these racial statistics.  

Read the report on our website at www.acluutah.org/racial-justice