OLYMPIA -- Tri-City minority youth are being arrested at a disporportional rate, which is similar to a statewide trend that recently gained the attention of the Washington State Supreme Court.
Last week, justices took time away from court cases to hear a presentation in their chambers made by members of the Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System.
Carl McCurley, manager of the Washington State Center for Court Research, told the justices that blacks and Latinos make up 41 percent of youth sentenced to juvenile rehabilitation statewide. The groups make up only 21 percent of the state's youth population.
The evidence indicates little progress has been made to address blacks and Latino youth disproportionately entering the system compared to white youth, said McCurley, a University of Texas graduate who joined the state courts system in 2006 from the National Center for Juvenile Justice in Pittsburgh, Pa.
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Sharon A. Paradis, administrator of Benton-Franklin Counties Juvenile Justice Center, told the Herald that the center has gone through a series of changes to address the issue.
The staff provides information and training to defense attorneys so they can overcome cultural and linguistic barriers they may encounter with their clients. Bicultural, bilingual counselors are available for family therapy. And the center connects parents with children whom have gone through the justice system to parents with children experiencing the system for the first time.
"If our agenda is to help kids get out of the system, then we need to have support for them within the system and community," Paradis said.
However, Latinos still make up 60 percent of the youth population receiving detention services at the Kennewick enter, even though the population of Latino youth in two counties is 45 percent.
Blacks make up 4 percent of the juvenile justice center's population compared to 1 percent of the two counties.
One goal of the task force is to identify why minorities are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system.
Michael Pullman, a University of Washington research scientist, told justices that bias toward race does play a role, in the same way that studies have shown employers reviewing otherwise identical resumes will favor applicants with names that sound more "white."
But overrepresentation may be more complicated than racial profiling, he said.
Pullman proposed looking at the communities that surround minorities as a source of influence on youth turning to crime.
Youth need positive role models, engaging activities and a challenging education, he said. Without those and other things that make up a strong community, youth will turn to a life of crime, he added.
Paradis said more work needs to be done to connect the center in Benton and Franklin counties to the communities around it. And the more diversity-based solutions, the better, she said.
"We need to identify programs and services that meet the specific needs and challenges of individual youth, as opposed to a shotgun method," she said.
One of solutions being worked on at the Kennewick center, she said, is creating a black and Latino presence on the Truancy and Diversion Community Accountability boards so the administration in charge of justice understands and can connect with youth in the system.