Reducing Harms to Boys and Young Men of Color from Criminal Justice System Involvement

by Akiva Liberman; Jocelyn Fontaine

Feb 4, 2015

This paper reviews systemic, institutional, and community policies and practices that greatly impact the life chances of boys and young men of color. Policy and practice changes that would reduce criminal justice engagement and that would reduce the harms caused to communities of color from criminal justice engagement are identified and suggestions are made for developing more evidence of effectiveness for initiatives in this area.
  • Among male high school dropouts ages 20-40, the incarceration rate is 32 percent for black men, compared with 6 percent for Hispanic men and 7 percent for white men. By their early 30s, the lifetime risk of imprisonment for black male high school dropouts is 59 percent, compared with 11 percent for whites.
  • Incarceration and criminal histories interrupt family and marriage and lock people into poverty and low wages while removing them from many public benefits.
  • The justice system should be used sparingly as a vehicle for improving youth outcomes because any benefits come with possible harms. It is crucial to develop a robust infrastructure of effective primary and secondary prevention for at-risk youth that is completely outside the juvenile justice system.
  • Policies that put surveillance, criminalization, and retribution at the forefront of response to misbehavior should be removed or reformed into policies that are rehabilitative, restorative, and promote positive youth development.