Violence and Crime

Juvenile Justice

The 2001 report, "Minority Youth and Juvenile Justice in West Virginia," shows that African American youth are over-represented, based on their percentage of the general population, at every stage of the criminal justice system - from arrests by law enforcement to detention and imprisonment. The percentage of over-representation grows at every stage as the juvenile moves through the criminal justice process. West Virginia's rates of over-representation of minority youth exceed national rates in all but one stage of the juvenile justice system.

Principles for Action
"Recent studies show that African, Hispanic, and Native Americans are often treated more harshly than other citizens in their encounters with the criminal justice system (including police activity, the handling of juvenile defendants, and prosecution and sentencing). These studies confirm that the racism and discrimination that continue to haunt our nation are reflected in similar ways in the criminal justice system." (U.S. Bishops, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration, p.10 http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/criminal.htm )

" [S]ociety must never respond to children who have committed crimes as though they are somehow equal to adults - fully formed in conscience and fully aware of their actions. Placing children in adult jails is a sign of failure, not a solution." (Ibid,p. 28)

Suggested Policy Directions

We support policies that would -

  • train police officers and juvenile justice personnel in awareness of racism
  • provide community service and educational options for juvenile offenders
  • offer counseling, mentoring, and other interventions to juvenile offenders and their families at the earliest possible stage
  • provide options for diversion, alternative sentencing, and restitution where appropriate
  • severely limit options for trying juveniles as adults