African American Youths Over Represented In Shawnee County Arrests

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- State and county officials gathered at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library Tuesday for a meeting to discuss why minority adolescents are over represented in the Kansas juvenile justice system.

“Every state is required by the federal government to conduct an assessment of how minority groups are over represented in the juvenile justice system,” said Dr. Elizabeth Neely, Director at research group Objective Advantage. “The purpose of this study is to find the factors that contribute to over representations.”

Independent researchers at Objective Advantage found that African Americans represent a disproportionately high percentage of the youth arrested in Shawnee County.

This trend also exists at the state level. While African Americans make up just over eight percent of the youth population in Kansas, they represent over 20 percent of arrested adolescents. Hispanic youths are also over represented in statewide juvenile arrests.

Neely says this is not necessarily because minority groups commit more crimes, but because of how the system operates.

“Consistently what we found is that the over representation of Latinos in the juvenile justice system tends to be regarding compliance with technical violations rather than committing new crimes. For black youth, it tends to be how our warrant system is handled here in Kansas,” said Neely.

The meeting was held to discuss the preliminary findings of the research and allow community members the opportunity to give feedback before compiling the final report.

"After tonight, the researcher's will take this input, work on their final report, present it to the Kansas Advisory Group and the agency in March in phase one and late June in phase two,” said Randy Bowman, Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority director of community programs.

Neely says she believes programs like the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which treat incarceration as a last resort for juveniles, seem to be the most promising to end minority over representation.