Young Blacks More Likely to Be Arrested for Non-Violent Crimes

New interactive map shows where this legal injustice happens most. 

Posted: 04/25/2014 11:00 AM EDT

It’s not a secret that youth of color are more likely to be taken out of the community and placed in prison for non-violent crimes. But does this mean that we are more prone to breaking the law compared to white youth?

Absolutely not when it comes to non-violent offenses, says the W. Haywood Burns Institute, an organization whose goal is to help eliminate racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.

"When you look at the numbers, it becomes clear that we don't have a crime problem in our country. We have an incarceration problem," said James Bell, executive director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute.

He added, "We know that the youth justice system is supposed to be a place that helps kids get on the right track, but it's choosing to duplicate models from the adult system that have been shown to harm more than they help."

To break down these numbers even further, the Institute unveiled their newest project, Unbalanced Juvenile Justice, an interactive map that breaks down these latest federal racial statistics. Looking at 2011 federal data, overall they found the following:

—75 percent of all youth are incarcerated for non-violent offenses.

—No less than two-thirds of those youth are of color.

—Black youth are 4.6 times as likely to be incarcerated than white youth.

—Native American youth are 3.2 times as likely.

—Latino youth are 1.8 times as likely.

So in which states are these disparities the highest?

When it comes to non-violent offenses, New Jersey and Wisconsin are the worst places for Black youth (male, female and transgender) to commit non-violent crimes. African-American youth in these states are 10.6 and 10.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth. Connecticut (9 times), New York (6.5), Massachusetts (6.1), Pennsylvania (4.9), Arkansas (4.8) and Minnesota (4.7) rank behind.

Now, given that there is no data that proves that Black youth commit more non-violent crimes than whites, what exactly is fueling these disparities?

Laura Ridolfi, the Institute’s law and policy analyst, told BET.com to look to a biased justice system and lack of access to quality legal representation to answer that question.

"Youth of color bear the brunt of a system that is dysfunctional, punitive and uses detention as response to typical teenage misbehavior,” she said. “Even before encountering the justice system, white youth have access to all sorts of alternatives, treatment programs and diversion programs. Youth of color get the police, courts, probation and jail." 

It’s also important to point out that even when Blacks commit violent offenses — which only make up for 25 percent of incarcerations — we are still more likely to be incarcerated than white youth who commit the same type of crimes.

And while no one is condoning crime, these stats are a constant reminder that institutional racism and white privilege are not figments of our imaginations.

Follow Kellee Terrell on Twitter: @kelleent

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 (Photo: AP Photo/John Minchillo)

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