Civil Rights Groups Warn That Juvenile Justice Bill Would Exacerbate Minority Youth Mistreatment

May 10, 1999 12:00 am

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Monday, May 10, 1999

WASHINGTON — A coalition of civil rights groups and youth advocates today strongly warned the Senate that the juvenile justice bill under consideration this week would aggravate the already unfair treatment received by minority youth at every level of the justice system.

In a letter sent to the Senate today, the coalition pointed to hard evidence from around the country that minority youth consistently receive more severe punishments and were significantly more likely to be incarcerated than non-minority youth who commit the same offense.

“All youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system should be treated appropriately — and equally,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “At least 40 states are currently developing plans to address how their justice systems unfairly treat minority youth. The bill before the Senate this week threatens to wipe out all of that progress.”

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate today on S. 254, the so-called Violent and Repeat Juvenile Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 1999. One of its provisions would substantially revise a core requirement of current juvenile justice law that directs states to identify whether they have a disproportionate number of minority youth in confinement and to develop strategies for correcting the problem.

“It would be easy to simply assume that the large discrepancy in minority youth incarceration is due to young people of different racial groups committing different kinds of crimes,” King said. “However, federal and state data show this simply not to be the case.”

The groups signing today’s letter to the Senate were:

  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • Children’s Defense Fund
  • Florida Avenue Baptist Church
  • Friends Committee for National Legislation
  • Justice Policy Institute
  • Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
  • Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
  • League of United Latin American Citizens
  • LISTEN, Inc.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund
  • National Council of Churches
  • National Council of La Raza
  • National Network for Youth
  • National Urban League
  • National Association of Counsel for Children
  • Sentencing Project
  • Youth Law Center

    The coalition letter on minority youth can be found at:

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