In St. Louis, Black Youths Bear Brunt of Dysfunctional Justice System
Black kids in St. Louis, Missouri are being disproportionately impacted by unconstitutional and discriminatory miscarriages of justice within the Family Court system, according to a two-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to a statement on Friday from the agency’s Civil Rights Division, the probe found multiple constitutional violations, including:
- Failure to ensure youth facing delinquency proceedings have adequate legal representation;
- Failure to make adequate determinations that there is probable cause that a child committed the alleged offense;
- Failure to provide adequate due process to children facing certification for criminal prosecution in adult criminal court;
- Failure to ensure that children’s guilty pleas are entered knowingly and voluntarily;
- An organizational structure that is rife with conflicts of interest, is contrary to separation of powers principles and deprives children of adequate due process; and
- Disparate treatment of Black children at four key decision points within the juvenile justice system.
“In short, Black children are subjected to harsher treatment because of their race,” the findings report reads.
For example, the probe found that Black youths are almost one-and-a-half times more likely than White children to have their cases handled “formally,” even after introducing control variables such as gender, age, risk factors, and severity of the allegation. “Processing a case informally is considered more desirable for youth because after successful completion of an informal disposition, the case is dismissed,” the report explains.
In other words, the investigation indicates that Black children have less opportunity to benefit from diversion alternatives—such as drug counseling or educational programming—when compared with White children.
“The findings we issue today are serious and compelling,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“Missouri was at the forefront of juvenile corrections reform when it closed its large juvenile institutions and moved to a smaller, treatment-focused system and we are hopeful that Missouri will rise to this challenge to, once again, be a leader in juvenile justice reform,” she added. “This investigation is another step toward our goal of ensuring that children in the juvenile justice system receive their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process and equal protection under the law.”
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