minority contact

Core principles for reducing DMC


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Some of the simplest to understand, most cost effective, and therefore most practical strategies to address disproportionate minority contact (DMC) are those that focus on the overall accountability of juvenile justice system agencies. Accountability strategies include collecting and analyzing data, developing and sharing action recommendations, assuring the implementation of those recommendations, and educating practitioners about DMC and unequal treatment of youth. However, after all is said and done, the only way to reduce DMC is to change the behavior of staff.

The following are four core principles for changing practitioner behavior. The appropriateness of each principle depends on the current rules and policies and the system decision point involved.

  • Revise policies to clarify staff discretion
    Reviewing policies can identify problem areas where more or less discretion would be better. Clarifying policies can lead to more consistent implementation and greater ability to oversee staff decisions.
  • Increase documentation of decisions
    Appropriate levels of documentation allow for review of decisions.
    Those decisions implementing harsher consequences for students should require more time and more documentation to discourage their use.
  • Increase oversight directly or indirectly
    People change their behavior if they know they may be watched or their decisions are considered in employment evaluations. Think about how traffic slows near a police car.
  • Regularly train staff on implementation
    Without training for staff, any new policies and procedures are unlikely to be implemented.

An example in Connecticut of revising policies to limit staff discretion is secure detention. Pretrial detention is a crucial DMC decision point since it can and does lead to further out of home placement as well as other more severe outcomes. Between the first two DMC assessment studies (1991/92 and 1998/99) police discretion to decide which juveniles accused of criminal offenses they would transport to secure detention was restricted because of overcrowding. Police were suddenly required to obtain a court order to detain juveniles accused of non-serious offenses, but not those accused of serious offenses. The next assessment study showed that DMC disappeared at this decision point with non-serious juvenile offenders. An equal proportion of white and minority non-serious juvenile offenders were transported to detention. It seemed that the changes required because of overcrowding had reduced DMC for those it affected?—?juveniles accused of non-serious offenses. New DMC recommendations included a similar modification for serious offenders. After ten years of advocacy, a bill became law in 2011 requiring police to obtain a court order to detain any juvenile including serious juvenile offenders. It is expected, based on the previous change, that this law will eliminate or significantly reduce unequal treatment at pre-trial detention. Data analysis to determine whether limiting the discretion of police has succeeded in reducing DMC will be available in 2017.