As many of you know, Virginia's juvenile justice system is challenged by the issue of racial and ethnic disparities and, in particular, the disparate and disproportionately high number of African-American children whose overrepresentation only grows more severe with each step deeper into the system. While black youth make up approximately 20 percent of Virginia’s youth population, they account for more than 50 percent of all intakes, and more than 70 percent of our direct care admissions.
These disparities impact real people and raise legitimate questions about the fairness of our system and whether all people are receiving equal treatment under the law. The crisis of racial and ethnic disparities in our juvenile justice system is not new, nor is it unique to Virginia or to the juvenile justice system. For example, the Virginia Department of Education’s Discipline, Crime and Violence report from 2014-15 showed that, while black students represented 23 percent of Virginia’s total student enrollment, they accounted for 53 percent of short-term suspensions, 60 percent of long-term suspensions, and 52 percent of expulsions.
This is a problem that is easier to identify than to solve, and one that defies easy solutions. The contributing factors are many, the issues challenging, and the people and agencies that must work together to take it on are numerous.