The Richmond Register

January 26, 2013

Local group studying ‘disproportionate minority contact’ in juvenile justice system

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

MADISON COUNTY — Several years ago, the state Department of Juvenile Justice released data indicating that Madison County had a “disproportionate minority contact” problem, or DMC.

The data indicated that too many minority youth were involved in the court system, were arrested, were on probation, or were sent to institutional placements, according to Dr. Preston Elrod, an Eastern Kentucky University criminal justice professor.

The report suggests that minority youngsters are disproportionately found in the juvenile justice system, although they are a fairly small percentage of the population, he said.

The Madison County Delinquency Prevention Council, of which Elrod is a member, is working to find out if that is the case. And if so, the council will discuss what the community can do to change that, he said.

“We want to make sure kids in this community are not involved in the juvenile justice process if they don’t need to be,” said Elrod, who as a former juvenile probation officer and then supervisor, has more than 30 years of experience in the field.

The council is looking at data sources to determine if there is “a bias in the system,” he said. For example, the council is looking at agencies most likely to refer minority youth to the juvenile justice process such as police departments and school systems.

“We really want to understand what’s going on in this community — I can’t say right now that we actually have a DMC problem, and we can’t explain why, but we’re getting close,” he said.

If disproportionate minority contact issues are discovered, the council will develop appropriate training programs to address them, Elrod said.   

The results of this study should be available in the spring.

Another interest of the council is prevention, he said. Children are subjected to “potential harm when they are involved in the juvenile justice process.”

In 2010, Madison County School’s Bellevue Ed Center was labeled as “the model alternative education program for the state of Kentucky,” Elrod said.

But with school districts experiencing budget cuts, he said, some support services for at-risk students are being eliminated.

“This is the population of youngsters who need the most attention, but because of reduced funding, they are not getting the support they need in schools,” Elrod said.

However, delinquency problems then appear in the community, he said.

“And eventually, somebody has to pay. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of support coming from Frankfort and Washington these days.”

A concern of the council is to address the “school-to-prison pipeline”— a national trend of children being funneled out of the public schools into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services,” the ACLU stated.

The council also would like to establish a temporary crisis shelter that could be used to avoid placing a child in a detention center.  

As an example, Elrod cited the story of a mother and two children under age 10 from Tennessee who were living with someone in Richmond. The mother had a falling out with that person, so she and the children moved into a hotel. The mother was later arrested for possession of drugs, and the two children were taken into police custody.

The children had no relatives in this area and the father, who lived in Tennessee, had a restraining order against him. The children ended up spending the night at the police station because they had nowhere to go.

“We want to make sure children not only have a place, but we want to make sure it’s a good place,” Elrod said.

The council was formed about six years ago when Dr. Michelle Gerken, another EKU professor, collaborated with Elrod to receive federal funding for a truancy reduction program. To receive that federal funding, a local policy board had to be established.

Since it began, the council has worked with other groups in the community who are involved with child welfare issues.

The council also has sponsored some study circles on race, Elrod said. Led by a trained study-circle facilitator, diverse groups of individuals from the community were pulled together and engaged in “lengthy and honest” conversations about race.

Elrod said the community can benefit from these kind of study circles, even if the council discovers there are no DMC issues.  

The Madison County Delinquency Prevention Council meets on the third Friday of every month, 9 a.m., at the court designated worker’s office in the Courthouse Annex at the corner of Second and Irvine streets, next to the detention center.

For details, email Elrod at preston.elrod@eku.edu.