The juvenile justice system should treat all youth equally and fairly. However, there are actually a number of factors that influence how juvenile offenders are treated in Washington. The outcome of a teenager’s experience with the justice system often comes down to things outside of his or her control, like race and poverty.

Data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 40% of Black juvenile offenders accused of weapons offenses were adjudicated to adult court. Around 13% ended up being placed in secure facilities. Compared to their white peers facing the same weapons charges, only 27% were adjudicated, and only 5% ended up in secure facilities.

Youth who are placed in detention facilities face uphill battles once they are released. Researchers have found that these teens have a harder time graduating high school, trouble maintaining a steady job and have a higher chance of going to prison when they are adults. This is because incarcerating teens usually has the opposite of the intended effect. Rather than shame youth into compliance, detention facilities tend to deepen the trauma that landed so many of these minors there in the first place. This trauma often has roots in poverty.

Many advocates agree that rehabilitation and other alternatives are more effective than incarceration. But to access some of these options, juvenile offenders have to first survive the justice system. Washington parents who are concerned that their children might be adjudicated to adult court or spend time in detention facilities are well advised to seek out experienced guidance as early on in the process as possible.