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Kalamazoo launches effort to create anti-racist juvenile justice system following new report

Gull Road Justice Complex
Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 17:13:04-05

KALAMAZOO COUNTY, Mich. — A report analyzing Kalamazoo County's juvenile justice system was released this week and outlines its racial disparities.

It's called "Closing the Gate: Creating an Anti-Racist Juvenile Justice System in Kalamazoo".

Officials and volunteers are working alongside each other to use those findings to work towards an anti-racist system for youth.

Kalamazoo County data shows black youth are more likely to be arrested and prosecuted in Kalamazoo's juvenile justice system than white youth.

The Michigan Center of Youth Justice, who conducted the report, is hoping to use the findings to reverse the racial disparities being seen.

"Over 72% of black children are being folded into a system that is not designed to help them be successful. This is our reality in our community," said Kalamazoo Community Activist Stephanie Williams.

Juvenile crime in Kalamazoo County has been on a steady decline over the last 10 years, but racial disparities in the system have not.

"Black youth are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted at higher rates than white youth, and that goes along with some of the other statistical things that we see for black youth," said Michigan Center for Youth Justice Executive Director Jason Smith.

The statistics include situations like higher instances of poverty correlating with higher levels of gun violence.

The report was funded by a grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

"The goal of this project was to identify ways to intentionally reduce those disparities, looking at information and data to better understand what what drives you to color into the justice system, and then develop interventions or solutions specifically for that population to help reduce disparities," said Smith.

According to Michigan State Police data, black youth accounted for 64% of youth arrests in Kalamazoo County in 2019. That's despite making up only 14% of the youth population.

A decrease in formal petitions was also seen, but not as steady when looking at race.

"I would say that the greatest findings that came out of this report was the need to have continued conversations between community members, young people, the justice system stakeholders, and I would throw the courts, prosecutors law enforcement in there as well, but also, there's a strong desire for data transparency and accountability for the system," said Smith.

The data analyzed was from 2019 due to numbers in 2020 and 2021 being skewed because of the pandemic.

Smith said there wasn't as much data as they hoped to have access to, where much like other places, the data was inconsistent and limited.

The nonprofit also spoke to focus groups compiled of those involved in the juvenile justice system.

"They talked about some of the good things that you know, dealing with police officers and the justice system has done for them, but it definitely, what outweighed it was their negative experiences and their perceptions, and they talked about why they had those perceptions," said Williams.

Key stakeholders were also involved in the conversations from Kalamazoo County, the city, law enforcement and even those involved in making decisions in the court system.

"Folks are committed to change. They're committed and really focused on targeted interventions, and we're hopeful that we'll see that come through in this project," said Smith.

Now that the report has been distributed to those key stakeholders, those who conducted it are hoping a plan is set into place where the community will soon start to see change.