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Is There Racial Inequality In Utah Juvenile Justice System?


Youth of color are treated differently than their white peers, according to a recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. The report shows significant racial inequality in the state juvenile justice system, even when youth commit the same crime.

ACLU of Utah Strategic Communications Manager Anna Thomas said the system needs reform.

“Those kids are treated more harshly and given more harsh dispositions," Thomas said. "And we know that implicit bias, not intentional cruelty or overt racism necessarily, but implicit bias and negative stereotypes and assumptions about these kids, and about their families, play into judges, probation officers, other people throughout the system, making different judgments for kids of color than they do for white kids.”

Thomas said she hopes the report will draw public attention to HB 239, a reform amendment sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow. The bill is moving through the justice system right now.

“We believe there are some excellent reforms proposed in this bill that will help start reducing these racial disparities by adding more structure to the sentencing process in the juvenile justice system, require cultural competency and  juvenile development training for people who work in the system," Thomas said. "Also making sure that kids who are poor or don’t have as many resources as other kids, don’t end up serving time in detention simply because they can’t pay off restitution or fines.”

The report draws in-depth data and information from the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group reportreleased in November 2016.