The juvenile justice system is supposed to treat all youthful offenders equally, but this is sadly not always the case. Hispanic and Latino juvenile offenders face higher rates of court-ordered placement and are detained twice as much as their white peers. The exact magnitude of the problem is not entirely clear either, because states such as Washington have different metrics for considering a youth’s race and ethnicity.
Noxton and the Alizana for Youth Justice are two organizations that focus on how the juvenile justice system disproportionately affects Latino youth and communities. According to the executive director of the AYJ, there are many reporting inconsistencies in legal institutions like police departments, juvenile courts and youth correctional facilities. For example, not only do most states not record juvenile offenders’ ethnicity, but they also do not give the option to identify minors as either Hispanic or Latino. As a result, many of these youths are counted as white.
There are also issues among institutions that identify race. These systems usually are not set up to identify the various mixed backgrounds that many Hispanics and Latinos identify as. This means that those who consider themselves mixed race like Afro-Latino or Indigenous are even more invisible in the system. Without good data on who is being incarcerated, it is impossible to address disparities in the system. It is also not possible to direct funding and support to those who really need it.
It is overwhelming to feel as if one is up against a system that is designed to disenfranchise already vulnerable populations. That does not mean it is a hopeless situation, though. Careful and consistent guidance from an experienced counsel may prove helpful to Washington juvenile offenders and their parents as they prepare for this process.