FRANKFORT—In Kentucky African-Americans make up just 11 percent of the children.
However, they account for 22 percent of all the formal complaints against children. Senator Whitney Westerfield announced he plans to introduce a bill addressing that issue.

" /> FRANKFORT—In Kentucky African-Americans make up just 11 percent of the children.
However, they account for 22 percent of all the formal complaints against children. Senator Whitney Westerfield announced he plans to introduce a bill addressing that issue.

" />

Study: African-American youth interact with police at higher rate than others

10/05/2018 07:04 PM

FRANKFORT—In Kentucky, African-Americans make up just 11 percent of the children.
However, they account for 22 percent of all the formal complaints against children.

That was just part of a presentation the Administrative Office of the Courts showed to the Interim Joint Judiciary Committee in Frankfort.


The group used a term that was coined decades ago; disproportionate minority contact. It refers to law enforcement interacting with children of color at a higher rate than Caucasian children.


Senator Whitney Westerfield said he plans to introduce a bill addressing this. The Republican from Western Kentucky filed a bill regarding this in 2017 (Senate Bill 20), but it did not pass.

“It has brought into sharp relief the numbers that we see in Kentucky that are pretty stark, depending on which county you’re looking at,” said Westerfield. “We see a very disproportionate number of youth of color in the system (in some parts of the state). It is out of proportion to their share of the population. It shouldn’t be that way.”

Rachel Bingham, the Executive Officer of the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Department of Family and Juvenile Services gave a presentation showing 11 percent of Kentucky’s youth population is African American, while 81 percent is white. However, in the first six months of 2018, almost a quarter of all complaints made to the Commonwealth’s Court Designated Worker program were on African American children.

Social justice advocate Edward Palmer says the way police patrol different areas may be to blame. He explained, “I spent a year embedded with the Louisville Metro Police Department as part of their in-service regimen, so I trained all 1200 sworn police officers on bias every Monday morning. One of the things that they consistently said is that the policing lens is different in predominately Caucasian, affluent areas, versus the inner-city poverty and minority communities is different. The lens in which they police is different.”

Bingham echoed that, saying “We do know that research says there is a way that we see kids of color and we actually age kids of color—in all actuality up to three years, she said. “Are we more harshly charging our youth out in the community just because of our own … biases that we related to our own history? What’s the difference between those non-school related (charges)?”

Rachel Bingham says that leads to another problem; that more African-American children are entered into detention centers rather that diversion programs.

Shively representative, Joni Jenkins asked the group, “I think the younger you bring a child into the system, the worse your outcomes are. So I think that’s one area that we should look at – are we criminalizing children of color at a higher rate than we are white children?”

Bingham address that as well, saying “We struggle with that opportunity to keep kids ever from entering the doors of detention, which is what we don’t want to happen. We don’t want our kids, unless there’s an absolute necessity around public safety, we don’t want kids to ever have to enter the door of detention.”

Kentucky’s Senate Bill 200 was intended to create more diversion programs, keeping children out of detention centers. Palmer explained the program hasn’t worked for all children. “It bill is having disparate impact. It’s impacting one group exactly how we wanted to effect them- continue to cipher until we get to the smallest population possible. But over in the African American side of the chart, we see the opposite happen. It gets worse as we go through the system.” Palmer continued, “We’re doing different things for different kids and therefore having different impact.”

Laurie Dudgeon, the Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts says there are a few things lawmakers can consider when addressing this. They included getting rid of charges for children younger than 12. Rather than have them charged in the courts, Dudgeon said they could instead be referred to FAIR (Family, Accountability, Intervention and Response) teams. She also spoke of mandatory diversion for certain issues and also looking at Kentucky’s youth offender law.

“We see the disparity numbers much less coming out of our schools than when we don’t know people at all,” Dudgeon said. “And I think that’s based on the really objective set of criteria we have for our status offenses. I think if we could take another look at the youthful offender statute that would be a great place to start.”

Palmer said, a goal needs to be keeping children who aren’t a danger out of jails. “What we know from research is that the deeper they go in, the more likely they are … to end up part of the adult criminal system,” Palmer said.

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