Young people and the
juvenile justice system

Disproportionate minority contact


Helping police see the world
through a kid’s eyes

Cops and kids unplugged
in Rocky Hill

Torrington cops and kids
on a mission

the story of DMC in CT

about Just.START

DMC studies

taking action

students and school discipline

CT juvenile justice

CT funding opportunities


Nationally, minority youth are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system and are treated more harshly there than their White peers. This is called Disproportionate Minority Contact, or DMC.

How do we ensure every child in Connecticut’s juvenile justice system gets fair and equal treatment?

We could talk about how complicated it is … or we could Just.START.

How are children of different races and ethnicities treated in the juvenile justice system?

Disproportionate minority contact, or DMC, is a national problem, and federal law requires every state to measure DMC in its juvenile justice system and to find ways to reduce it. The federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention monitors states’ compliance and offers resources to help reduce DMC.

Connecticut has completed several large studies on DMC. You can learn more by reading the latest study. As in other states, Connecticut has more Black and Hispanic youth in its juvenile justice system than the size of these groups statewide would predict. Studies have identified specific decision points in the system where minority children face more severe penalties than their White peers.

Why are youth of color treated differently?

Many factors determine how a child is treated in the juvenile justice system. There is no single, easy answer to explain why children of color are treated more harshly. But we do know that some common explanations don’t account for the problem.

Number and severity of crimes
When we look at national data where youth anonymously report their own behavior, results are similar for young people, regardless of race or ethnicity. So young people of all colors are committing the same delinquent acts at similar rates, but minority youth are more likely to be punished – and when punished, are more likely to be punished more severely.

Looking at economic data associated with zip codes, the Connecticut studies grouped young people by neighborhood. When they took poverty by neighborhood into account, the differences between outcomes by race and ethnicity were reduced – but they did not disappear. So poverty does not explain all DMC.

Cities versus suburbs
Often people argue that minority youth are over-represented in the system because they are more likely to live in cities, where more arrests occur. But a review of Connecticut’s data showed that the rate of disproportionality was actually worse in the suburbs and rural communities than it was in the cities.

Since the causes of the problem aren’t clear, how do we find a solution?

The studies found very specific decision points in the system where inequalities occur. For example, police are more likely to write a report for an incident involving a minority youth than one involving a White youth. Minority youth are more likely to be transferred to adult court for certain offenses. Knowing exactly where the problem is occurring allows Connecticut to target those decision points and find ways to ensure equal treatment.

The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, a governor-appointed group representing stakeholders within and outside the juvenile justice system, has made recommendations to reduce inequality in our system. These involve more accountability at key decision points as well as reforms that can prevent delinquency and reduce arrests. These include:

  • Giving police officers training in youth development
  • Facilitating partnerships between police and schools
  • Educating the public and stakeholders
  • Using data to drive system improvement
  • Making changes in the detention laws

For the full list of recommendations, see the latest DMC study.

Who’s working to solve this problem?

Many people are part of the solution and are working together to improve things in Connecticut. The Just.START coalition includes:

  • Police
  • Prosecutors
  • Public Defenders
  • Judges
  • State agencies
  • Advocates

By educating yourself about this issue, you become part of the solution. Please use the resources of this site and share them in your own community.

Why is the Just.START initiative good for Connecticut?

Most importantly, Just.START will move the state toward more equal treatment for all our youth. That’s better for the children involved and their families. It also is consistent with our community values.

There are important practical benefits to Connecticut as well. If we can reduce DMC, we’ll be keeping more kids out of the system. That saves money.

Young people who avoid the juvenile justice system entirely have better long-term prospects. When our youth succeed in school and later in the workplace, the whole community benefits.

Reducing DMC also reduces the burden on police officers, prosecutors, judges and staff throughout the juvenile justice system. They can better concentrate on the cases that truly need their attention.

Finally, even the appearance of unfairness dilutes respect for the rule of law. Trust in law enforcement and the judicial system can erode. Communities that become distrustful are less likely to cooperate and share information with authorities. This makes it impossible for these communities to receive the level of service they deserve.

Just.START is a strategy to do away with DMC. That’s the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.

Find out how to take action