June 14, 2022

Whitehouse, Warren, Sanders, Markey, Klobuchar Introduce Bill to Reduce Racial & Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System

Legislation would tackle stark disparities in the treatment of Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other youth of color by juvenile courts and detention programs

Washington, DC – Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced today the Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System Act.  Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other youth of color are vastly overrepresented in America’s juvenile justice system, and those youth are more likely to face more severe treatment.  The senators’ new bill would expand access to vital funding for jurisdictions seeking to address racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system, and boost local services, planning, and data-sharing to promote more equitable treatment of youth.

“We need to grapple with the startling fact that young people of color are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system than white people their age, and that the treatment of those young people is often harsher,” said Whitehouse.  “Our bill frees up funding to jurisdictions that recognize this problem and are trying to do something about it.  It also requires states and the federal government to gather and share information on how best to address racial disparities.  I’m pleased to partner with Senator Warren on this important bill.”

“It’s shameful that Black and Brown youth in America are disproportionately impacted by the racial inequities in our juvenile justice system,” said Warren.  “We must do everything we can to tackle racial disparities head on and my bill with Sheldon Whitehouse takes critical steps to do just that.”

“We must act now to end the school-to-prison pipeline and fundamentally reform our racist and broken criminal justice system,” said Sanders.  “I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation which is an important step in that direction.”

“We must cut off the pipeline that sends young people of color into the juvenile justice system at disproportionate and discriminatory rates,” said Markey.  “This legislation will ensure communities have access to the funding and resources necessary to begin to address disparities in that system – all while requiring state governments to collect and publicize crucial information that will help curtail this disturbing trend.”

“This legislation will ensure that states have the data needed to effectively address racial disparities and develop targeted interventions for at-risk youth,” said Klobuchar

The bill is endorsed by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, Strategies for Youth, the Gault Center, the Sentencing Project, Youth Village, National Juvenile Justice Network, National Association of Counsel for Children, First Focus Campaign for Children, iFoster, Children’s Advocacy Institute, and Partners for Our Children, University of Washington School of Social Work.

“The Coalition for Juvenile Justice is excited to see the introduction today of this important legislation!  While the youth justice field has made great strides in recent years, racial and ethnic disparities remain pervasive in jurisdictions across the country.  States are required under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) to take steps to remedy these disparities.  This bill makes clear that states can use funds from the JJDPA to address this critical problem.  It also underscores the importance of continuing the work to create more equitable systems,” said Naomi Smoot Evans, CJJ Executive Director.

Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, and other youth of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be involved in juvenile court.  They are also more likely to be detained, removed from their homes, and referred into the adult system.  In 2018, Congress’ bipartisan reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act made reducing these racial and ethnic disparities a core requirement, but states are struggling to meet it. 

The Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Juvenile Justice System Act would help states better address racial and ethnic disparities by:

  • Clarifying that JJDPA block grants can be used to fund programs seeking to reduce racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Promoting funding opportunities for small, community-based providers in counties with higher-than-average rates of youth involvement in the juvenile justice system;
  • Requiring states to create a plan to identify and record youth data disaggregated by race and ethnicity, and to provide a publicly-accessible annual report on their progress to address racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Requiring OJJDP to issue guidance for states on uniform on collecting and reporting youth data on race and ethnicity; and
  • Ensuring that youth of color with prior experience with the juvenile justice system, or parents or guardians of such youth, are represented on State Advisory Groups and on state, local, and tribal-level coordinating bodies dedicated to monitoring efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

Text of the bill is available here.

Rich Davidson (Whitehouse), 202-228-6291

Alex Sarabia (Warren), 202-224-2292

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921