During the 20 year span from 1980 to 2008, the total number of incarcerated individuals in the U.S. quadrupled from 500,000 to 2.3 million, according to the NAACP. And a recent report from the FBI found that the estimated number of violent crimes increased by 3.9% just in 2015 alone. But by and large, African Americans are arrested and convicted for all kinds of crimes, ranging from drug possession to murder, more often than any other racial group. Now, one analysis has found that not only are black adults tried and convicted more often than whites, but black juveniles are being tried and convicted more often as adults than white minors are.
Statistics from the NAACP show that African Americans make up nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million individuals who are incarcerated, making them six times more likely to be locked up than white people. In addition, African Americans represent 26% of all juvenile arrests and 58% of youth admitted to state prisons nationwide. That means that many of these youths aren’t ending up in juvenile detention facilities; rather, they’re being tried in adult courts and sentenced to time in serious facilities, forced to live among older, established criminals.
Advocates say that the time they spend in prison — being treated as adults and living among real adults — does not help them walk the straight and narrow once they’re released.
Traditionally, juvenile criminal procedures are designed to do just that. But states like Florida, which transfers two-thirds of juvenile offenders into the adult prison system, have ridiculously high recidivism rates: juvenile offenders who are transferred into the adult prison system have a 34% higher rate of reoffending than those who remain in the juvenile system. And when you consider that African Americans represent only 17% of the entire population in Florida but make up nearly half of all adult prison inmates in the state, the problem becomes even more clear.
The Sunshine State isn’t the only spot in the nation with this disparity, either. While only 13 states publicly report the number of juvenile offenders who are transferred to adult facilities — and even fewer report on the demographics or racial information of those offenders — an analysis of data from nine different states showed that African American juveniles make up a large portion of the adult prison population. Aside from Florida, these racial and age disparities were observed in Texas, Idaho, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, and New Jersey. Of the states analyzed, Nebraska was the only one that showed no racially disproportionate share of juvenile offenders.
In an age where black individuals can be arrested for something as simple as a noise violation or killed just for the color of their skin with virtually no legal consequences, the findings of this analysis may not be all that surprising. But experts say that the inequality that exists with juvenile offenders being tried as adults will make things much worse.
Melba Pearson, a Miami prosecutor and president of the National Black Prosecutors Association who is now the deputy director of the Florida ACLU, told McClatchy’s Washington Bureau, “These kids are growing up with trauma, growing up seeing violence in their communities. Their lives and their futures shouldn’t be destroyed by going into the adult system.”