Earlier this year, the University of Nebraska – Omaha released a comprehensive report on youth of color in our juvenile justice system. For those who know the juvenile justice system well, perhaps it’s no surprise that what the study found was that youth of color are disproportionately represented at every level of the juvenile justice system statewide. And while these results may not be surprising, they are deeply disturbing in a state which claims that “the good life” is accessible for all children. When youth of color come into contact with the juvenile justice system, they are more likely to be pushed deeper into a system that study after study has shown diminish children’s likelihood of a successful transition to adulthood.
Disproportionate minority contact (DMC) within juvenile justice is an area that federal law requires Nebraska to work diligently to address. Taking the time to fund a comprehensive study of the scope and breadth of the problem is an important first step, but there’s much more work to be done. How can we as Nebraskans tackle the implicit biases that make our juvenile justice systems so unequal? What policy reforms does our state need to ensure all of our children have equal access to second chances and programming that helps them rather than hurts them? What strategies and programs should we be funding?
UNO’s report has some interesting recommendations that are worth looking at and implementing, but we want to hear what you think, too. Any truly successful response to DMC will need to involve a broader community who’s willing to look at unpleasant data, face some harsh realities, and commit personally and professionally to addressing the institutional racism that puts the future of many Nebraskans in jeopardy.