Opinion: Youth Incarceration and Discrimination

(The following article was written by 9th grader Harry Wyckoff who is participating in J-Term with a focus on juvenile incarceration)

Youth incarceration is a problem often overlooked by politicians and everyday citizens. What is far more overlooked, however, is racial discrimination inside the Youth Justice System.

It has been shown that all races commit crimes with almost the same frequency. However, juvenile halls are predominantly populated by people of color (black, hispanic, native americans, etc.). Only 14% of the inmates are white. This is also shown in Youth Review Hospitals. The hospital’s population is on average, 43% white, 21% hispanic, 13% bi-racial, 21% black, and 2% asian. These statistics don’t seem to make any sense, considering the crime rate among youth is equal throughout all races. The only way this makes sense is if racial discrimination, often implicit bias, is taken into account.

Here is an example of implicit bias: Imagine a high school student has gotten the phone number of a girl he likes. Later in the day, he has a class with this girl. The teacher asks him to read a paragraph, but he cannot read. At this moment, he would do anything to avoid humiliating himself in front of the girl, so he lashes out (verbally or physically). If this student were white, he would be sent in for review, where it would be found that he could not read, and had any number of mental disorders. If the student was black, he would most likely be expelled or suspended, and if he lashed out physically, sent through the juvenile justice system. Circumstances like this are the primary reason for racism in the system. Research shows that teachers are more likely to punish a black student more harshly than a white student. (http://www.cpbn.org/program/color-justice). No matter how dedicated they are to helping their students, everyone is capable of and susceptible to implicit bias, and this could influence the decision of the teacher.  If the student was white, then he meets the stereotype of a troubled child, with a poor environment at home; if the student was black, he would meet the stereotype of the unruly and defiant student. This idea would cause the students to be treated differently, even though the circumstances are identical.

The same principle can be applied to the process of juvenile justice. Inside of the system, this implicit bias causes even more harm. Juries are more likely to convict a person of color, for the same reason the teacher would enact a harsher punishment on him. Both most likely have an implicit bias, meaning they have a bias they are not aware of. Eventually this causes juvenile halls to be filled with individuals of color, and thus lacking in people of other races. There is an epidemic of racism in our juvenile justice system and change is needed if we ever want justice for today’s youth.


Harry Wyckoff, Contributing Writer

Posted by on January 29, 2015. Filed under Op-Ed,World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry