Intro Montage of Various Voices

COMMISSIONER DOLAN: The numbers about, you know, black youth incarcerated, they’re staggering. And, you know, the impact of the system is undeniable.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: The numbers don't lie…they tell the story, so the story is, the system is disproportionate.


CHIEF JUSTICE NECHTEM: There is clearly discrepancies and disparities in race and ethnic representations.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: The national picture is definitely pushing race to the front.


NATE BALIS: I don't think we can even begin to understand or really conceptualize what is going on in the juvenile justice system today if we're not talking about race.


DUCI GONAÇALVES (YAD): When you have a Family or a child who comes into the system and the people who are being prosecuted just look like them it undermines their faith in the system.


NAOKA CAREY: It's toxic to the legitimacy of the whole system if it's not treating everyone fairly.


LT. LENNY DIPIETRO (C.P.D): It’s a Public health concern…we want to help our youth, we want to help our kids.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN: So what are we achieving here?


CRYSTAL COLLIER: we, we own this collectively; so we all have a part in, “how do we make this better?”


MERVAN OSBORNE: It can be done: good teachers, effective teaching, good community relationships, with business owners, police officers… all of this is possible. It happens in the suburbs why not in the cities?


CHIEF JUSTICE NECHTEM: We need an open-minded discussion of how best we can impact our kids and our system and I’m not sure that has always happened in Massachusetts.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN: We need… to be vigilant and be aware of both procedural fairness issues, as well as the results that we’re producing.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: You know the analogy that I've used is the uh, assembly line. You know we can all do a really good job at our workstation and still have a lousy system. To the extent that there’s ownership up and down that assembly line we have a chance. And our department is declaring this is a real priority.


NATE BALIS JDAI: At this point in time, that the juvenile justice system in particular is entering young peoples lives, is a point that matters a great deal. Where the stakes are extremely high and they're extremely high for those who we know our at greatest risk for future involvement in the system. We can't afford to blow it.


The System is Disproportionate

NARRATOR (1.1): Massachusetts has great reason to be proud of how we take care of our children.  We lead the nation on educational achievement and health care coverage for children and overall quality of life.  Despite some of these incredible advances, disparities exist for some of our youth.


NARRATOR (2.1):  The youth population in Massachusetts is 67% white and 33% youth of color. When you get to the youth held on bail–known as the DETAINED population–everything flips, 70% are youth of color and 30% are white.


NAOKA CAREY: Right now children of color in Massachusetts are burdened in a lot of different ways.  So they're much more likely to live in high poverty communities, they're much more likely to go to underperforming schools, they're much more likely to be subjected to the most severe kind of discipline if they’re in those schools, even for the same kinds of behavior, and they're much more likely to end up in our juvenile justice system .


NARRATOR (3.1): While 9% of white children in the Commonwealth live in poverty, that number rises to 32% for African-American children and 38% for Latino youth.


LYNSEY HEFFERNAN: Kids who come before the Massachusetts juvenile court have experienced high degrees of trauma and unfortunately we know that when young people come into detention that itself can be a traumatic experience. We want to prevent those children from being re-traumatized unnecessarily, especially if they can be served in their own communities.


NARRATOR (3.1):  Our system leaders, from the police, to the courts, to our service delivery systems all acknowledge that Racial and Ethnic Disparities, often referred to as RED, exist in the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice system


COMMISSIONER FORBES: As a regional director in Boston for 11 years, you know, I was responsible for the Metro youth service center and the detention programs and the committed programs in that building are almost exclusively minority and have been for years. And that doesn't reflect Suffolk County.  


NAOKA CAREY: Once they get there, they’re more likely to penetrate deeply into that system and that can lead to other things like adult incarceration, unemployment, not going to college, all sorts of negative things.


NARRATOR (5.1):  While data collection by race and ethnicity could be improved at many decision points in MA, there is enough data to see that disparities exist at every point in the juvenile justice system.


NATE BALIS: You see double the representation of minority youth the point of arrest than you do in the population as a whole. Again knowing that delinquency: fights, using drugs, skipping school, doing all those things happen across the board. It happens in white communities. It happens in black communities. It happens in affluent communities. It happens in poor communities. And yet you see this disparity right at the front door of the system.


NARRATOR (6.1): Over the last ten years in Massachusetts the use of detention has decreased dramatically.  But this decrease has not been happening at the same rate for all youth.  The rate of decrease has been sharpest for whites.  This means that racial disparities at pretrial detention are actually increasing in Massachusetts.  


NATE BALIS: What you then see is the disparity gets greater at the next point. Right, now when you're talking about the decision to prosecute it gets greater. Then at the point of disposition you’re talking about which kids get on probation versus which kids get placed, the disparity grows even further. So at each point in time we see a bigger and bigger population…of youth of color who are getting the most severe sanction as they move along. And that can represent all kinds of things but it's certainly not something that we can ignore as being an issue.


NARRATOR (7.1):  We know that many of the disparities exist in our systems and communities before youth even come into contact with a police officer.


TIANA DAVIS: What we've learned, over the last many years through the data, is that the school system is often a feeder for youth of color into the juvenile justice system, as well as child welfare system.


MATT CREGOR: Out of school suspension predicts dropout. And out of school suspension is what we’re using, by and large, to address our minor misbehavior our non-drug, noncriminal, nonviolent offenses, right? We are not talking about guns, we’re not talking about bullying, We’re not talking about fighting. Yet two thirds of our out of school suspensions deal only with that. And that's also where we see our greatest racial disparities.


Black students are the 3.7 times more at risk of an out of school suspension than their white peers in Massachusetts. For Latino students, who are 3.1 times as likely as their white peers to be suspended, that’s actually double the national disparity.


DAN LOSEN: You won't always be able to prove that there was different treatment or an intent to discriminate on the part a teacher or police officer. But what you see in the statistics is this much higher tendency to perceive something as a serious behavioral issue and then to punish more harshly, given equal kinds of misbehaviors.


MATT CREGOR: It's important to know right? It didn't used to be this way. Our discipline rates and disparities did not used to look this bad. And it’s also important know it doesn't have to be this way.


NARRATOR (8.1):  There is no one cause of the disparities that exist in our system. Given that decisions by actors outside our system can increase racial and ethnic disparities within it, we have the responsibility to look deeply at our system, and ask, “are we doing all we can to combat and not perpetuate disproportionality?”.


NARRATOR (8.2):  The way these disparities can be seen most clearly in the justice system is by calculating the relative rate index. This number represents the ratio of a given racial population compared to the white population at the same point in the system, then balanced against the Commonwealth’s general youth population ratios. In 2014 the Black Detention RRI was 7.00  to 1. A black youth was seven times more likely to be detained than a white youth in Massachusetts.


NATE BALIS: You know, as I've seen here in Massachusetts, looking at the data, to be able to look at each of those decision points with scrutiny, to be able to think about equity at each of those points and say, “who are the kids coming to this point, and are we…treating them the same?” The best that we can do is at each point in time have a very deliberate purpose.


Why Does it Matter?

NARRATOR (9.1):  Someone might ask, “why does it matter? As long as crime and detention continue to fall who cares if the numbers aren’t always evenly aligned?” The answer is that this imbalance impacts us all–people in and out of the system–in negative ways.


NAOKA CAREY: The system itself is not a benign intervention… not because it's full of bad people but because it tends to disconnect kids from the things that are really important and which help them live normal teenager lives


DUCI GONAÇALVES: It’s a disruption for their family, it’s  disruption towards their education, any pro-social activities that they had going on in the community, any resources like mental health treatment, counseling, all that is disrupted and even if it's for a short period of time to expect that young person to get back out into the community and just pick up like nothing ever happened…you can’t expect that to happen.


NARRATOR (10.1):  Detention takes kids away from their families, schools, and support systems and exposes them to negative peer influences. Despite the best efforts of system workers a stay in detention is often a traumatic experience for youth.


These experiences increase the odds that kids will reoffend and ultimately penetrate deeper into the system, study after study shows this.


DUCI GONACALVES: It's about a child it’ s about their future, to ensure that they don't fall victim to the system and become a person who just cycles through the juvenile system into the adult system.


NARRATOR: Our system is actively, albeit unintentionally,  contributing to the public safety challenges in our black and Latino communities.


Disparate treatment of Black and Latino youth that leads to unnecessary arrests, prosecution and incarceration imposes an avoidable financial burden on our state–vital funding that could be spent more productively in those same communities.


It’s a question of common sense, justice, fairness and equal application of the law.


It’s also about building MA’s future.


NAOKA CAREY: If we want a strong Commonwealth then we’re going to have to address these disparities and we’re going to have to begin to support children of color in the same ways that we support white children...give people the capacity to reach their goals and be vibrant contributors in our communities.


NARRATOR (10.2):  If we’re disparate in our treatment of  entire communities, relying more heavily on interventions that stunt their growth and potential for a productive life then we are diminishing future prosperity across our state. Youth represent that future. This is the moment to give all our children a shot at equality and a future that is fair and just.


MEGHAN GUEVARA: we can't throw up our hands and say this is too big of a problem for us to tackle. And we can't say that, “oh because of you know poverty and educational inequity and structural racism and all of the other contributing factors that the juvenile justice system just can't do anything about this.


CRYSTAL COLLIER: It's always, "well you're doing this". “Well the police are bad because the police are going to those neighborhoods and they’re arresting all the black kids while they’re letting the white kids just go do whatever they want.”

That's really not a productive way to enter into a conversation.


NATE BALIS: It's not about casting blame on police or casting blame in other parts of our society around the disparities that we see. They’re deep within our country and they go far beyond the justice system. What I think people are acknowledging, in a way that perhaps has felt more controversial to acknowledge in the past, is that we have a long way to go to ensure equity in the system…we have an opportunity now to not just the acknowledge that but to really dig deeper and to really come up with ideas that allow us to address that much more head-on


What Can We Do?

NARRATOR (11.1):  Decreasing disparities and ensuring equity feels like a tall order in a system that is complex and involves so many actors. Yet we all have a part we can play to make a big difference; we have to take steps to break the cycle.


MEGHAN GUEVARA: We know that it is a huge problem but we know that the problem is exacerbated by many small decisions that we all make as professionals every day and if we’re willing to take ownership for our part of the system, we have the ability to have an impact on those disparities.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: People who get involved in the juvenile justice system don't do so because they want to hurt kids. They don’t get into…involved in that system because they want to be unfair. They get involved because they want to help. Genuinely they could be other places inside the criminal justice system. They want to help kids before things go far too wrong.


NARRATOR (12.2): What can you do in your corner of the juvenile justice system to effect personal and system change?

Talking about race is difficult but we have to be able to address it head on in order to create positive, lasting solutions.


CRYSTAL COLLIER: If I'm having a conversation with a group of people about racial and ethnic disparities and no one is feeling the least bit uncomfortable then we are getting nothing done; because part of this work requires us to do little self-reflection and to also think about those decision points that we own. And that's not comfortable; people don't like to be uncomfortable.


NARRATOR (13.1):  First, we need to be aware of our own biases and how they affect our outcomes.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: Implicit bias is this notion of how we associate things, even unconsciously. Association that doesn't align with our goals, doesn't even align with our values but perhaps drives what we do. 


DAN LOSEN: You can test yourself. Anyone can go to… and you can take this test. It's a neurologically-based test so you can't control the outcomes but you can reflect on what it means… no one is immune from having implicit or unconscious racial bias. I've taken a test, I’m a civil rights advocate, I have tested as having negative attitudes about blacks. And I think we all have to own up to the fact that this is not something I choose or like, but it is something that I can attend to.


KIMBERLY PAPILON: in the context of a probation officer or a social worker or someone who's assessing an individual for recidivism, the essence of that analysis is how threatening this person is. “Are they a threat to themselves or others?”…If your brain is already demonstrating that you believe this person is more threatening before they’ve said anything in the interview, then what you hear from them may appear to be more threatening… So we stop looking solely at the facts that are before us and we color each of those facts with the threat response.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: it's–it's a very murky, difficult conversation to have. The implicit bias “door” is actually a really good door to go in because everybody has implicit biases–kids, families, and clearly all the adult practitioners in the system.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN:  We did a survey of our-our own staff. They're making a determination at intake of race and ethnicity. We were all over the place, we had no one best practice that we had trained everybody up on. There was even variance in practices by a single probation officer. So depending on the crush of time or whatever, people did, you know, shorthand ways, “Oh that looks like a Hispanic name, I’ll just call him Hispanic.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: Putting people in silos, giving them a lot of individual autonomy without a lot of checks and balances allows for bias to continue, … People inside of the juvenile justice system make very similar decisions over and over again. If they were actually to pull out a case, and then another case, and then another case… and they say I’m going to pull 10 different decisions that I made about 10 different young people. They're all very similar decisions with people who were in very similar positions but did they have the same outcome and what role did I play?...


NARRATOR (14.2):  Not every racial disparity boils down to personal bias. There’s a lot of bias built into the system itself that can be addressed by decision makers, organizations and creative thinking once it is identified.


LYNSEY HEFFERNAN: We need to address our individual bias but equally as important we need to address systemic biases that may exist–unbeknownst to us–in our own system. There are policies and practices within our system that can disproportionately impact young people of color, even though on their face they impact all children equally.

DUCI GONAÇALVES: A systematic issue within the juvenile court system is fees. When kids come into court and they're appointed an attorney, they’re assessed $150 legal counsel fee. If you're placed on probation many times kids are also assessed a supervision fee. Assessing poor children legal counsel fees and probation supervision fees disproportionately impacts youth of color.

You have kids who their parents are not working or you have that youth who was unable to get a job because of they are a youth. So a lot of times you get kids whose cases won't be resolved if the legal counsel fee hasn't been paid or if they’re on probation and they’re behind on their fees they’re brought into court on a violation of probation, that could potentially result in detention.


MEGHAN GUEVARA: It's usually not because of some nefarious reason or because anyone is trying to treat one child better than another. It's usually because there is a component missing in the system, an option that's not available that lets us respond in a way that will get those youth similar outcomes.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN: …And the key to that is to look at those results, document them, look at the data–at all aspects of our decision-making…


NARRATOR (15.1):  One of the methods to reduce both individual bias and systemic bias is to infuse other perspectives in decision making, so it is not one person operating alone who will make an important decision about a youth.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: You can do things like… create a group process to make certain types of decisions where there's checks and balances so that, you know, that you're getting other opinions into the fold when you're making the decisions.


CRYSTAL COLLIER: The answers are always better when they come from a group. So to have other people in the room bringing a different level of information to the conversation leads to a better outcome in terms of policies, in terms of practices, in terms of how you’re setting priorities, in terms of decision-making.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: Having a room filled with people of one ethnicity and bringing in one token person from another ethnic group and saying, “hey look what we did here, we diversified,” that's not going to change the decision making, it’s not going to make the system anymore fair.

Having a group of people who are from different places and have different ideas and different perspectives changes the way we as a group make decisions. We start thinking about other options that we wouldn’t have considered before. We start being more creative and innovative in the way we approach problems…not because that person with that ethnicity was in the room alone but because there were so many different types of people in the room.

CRYSTAL COLLIER:  I think it's important that you have a staff and a workforce at all levels that reflect the communities that are being served. it’s not just the skin color–it's a diversity of experience and thought and ideas.


NAOKA CAREY: The leadership and the staff in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system are much whiter than the population that is in the juvenile justice system…in the short run it means that staff and leadership need to really be sensitive and it is incredibly critical that all of them are culturally competent.


MERVAN OSBORNE: Cultural competency unfortunately is quickly going to become this buzzword thing…but I think it’s a breakthrough in terms of awareness, like people’s awareness of, of other…

We spend a lot of time judging people who are different. It’s not to say, “this is right or this is wrong, or this is righter or this is wronger (if that’s a word)…”

If this person’s ignorant of this person’s, you know this boy’s, sort of reality and how he’s been raised to this point, he has no chance of breaking through.


NARRATOR (16.1):  Those who work in the system and come from a different background than the kids in the system on a daily basis, have to be willing to learn about the communities and families that these youth come from.  It is crucial to learn about those youth and their culture to do your job effectively. You don’t need to walk a mile in their shoes but understanding–educating yourself–should be a priority for everyone in this system.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: Racial and ethnic disparities has really emerged as a significant concern… I think Massachusetts is actually at the point where we from a leadership standpoint are contemplating you know what's the next step? What does an action plan look like?


Much is already being done

NARRATOR (17.1):  RED is not a new problem in MA and many positive programs are already underway to reform the system and reduce racial and ethnic disparities.  These interventions tend to work best when many system players collaborate.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN: we need to collaborate and coordinate what we do, so that one, we don't do harm and that we achieve very best results.


NATE BALIS: I've worked in places that told me that, “we don't collaborate we cooperate” and that there's a big difference. And I think that that’s sometimes what systems can fall victim to.


TIANA DAVIS: in efforts to reduce racial and ethnic disparities it's really critical to bring all stakeholders to the table, both juvenile justice stakeholders as well as stakeholders from other child serving systems including: the education system as well as the child welfare system. Because it's in partnership with those systems that we’re able to identify alternative strategies for working with youth who may have in the past presented to the juvenile justice system but really have other needs that need to be addressed.


CHIEF JUSTICE NECHTEM: It is a system-wide change. And how do we do that? We have to make that uh, determination together. One opportunity that has presented perhaps in probation and some system change in probation needs to follow in line with what’s going to happen in with our judges, uh, with the Department of Youth Services. With uh, these kids that are dually involved.


NARRATOR (18.1):  Dually Involved youth are those under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families–in the child welfare system–who then become involved in the juvenile justice system. 


COMMISSIONER FORBES: We have a potentially exciting pilot in Hampden County that's court based with the Hampden County Juvenile Court. We’ve been working hand-in-hand with the Department of Children and Families to identify child welfare kids at the point of delinquency. So for child welfare involved kid, treat that initial delinquency, that first arrest an arraignment as a very significant event in the kid's life.


NARRATOR (19.1): The Dually Involved Youth pilot program allows for communication between DCF and court clinicians, prosecutors, defense attorneys, community service organizations and families. More information is gained about the children and their families by all parties.


BRIDGET NICHOLS: Basically it’s just around the premise of a multidisciplinary team meeting. Parties who are already engaged with the youth coming together to try to develop a plan to better support the families and the youth. And I know that research suggests that families, just by way of having the multidisciplinary team meeting, that can increase success for these families.


NARRATOR: Getting a more holistic view allows for more creative, appropriate solutions than one-size fits all punishment. This process applies to all dually involved youth regardless of race but the fact that youth of color are more likely to be involved in the DCF system means that this pilot program helps reduce RED in the deep end of the justice system.


CURTIS FRICK: We see…high numbers of these concerned populations coming in to DYS…and that they’re involved with DCF….It’s difficult to figure out…how we can answer the problem of disproportionate minority contact with different systems…either the DCF system or the DYS System…

And that’s what we’re doing here we’re taking a system change and trying to effect the kids who are involved and if a large majority of those kids involved are…populations that we have concerns with regarding racial disproportionality then we hope to effect those numbers of kids being committed, which would be great on a statewide level.


BRIDGET NICHOLS: A lot of the same issues that we see here in our clinic and the type of youth that we see here are very similar to the youth that they see in clinics across the state. I definitely think that this is a program that can be replicated in all the different courts across the state.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: The Hampden County pilot has been really great on trying to figure out ways to basically keep low risk kids in the community.


NARRATOR (20.1):  Avoiding sending low risk kids into detention, which we know can lead to increased recidivism, school drop out and disruption of social support networks, is possible at several key decision points including arraignment in the courts.


CHEIF JUSTICE NECHTEM: long before I came on there was a group actively working on what’s called the JPAST tool, an assessment tool to our courts.


NARRATOR (21.1):  The Massachusetts Juvenile Probation Arraignment Appearance Screening Tool (JPAST) is a tool designed to predict the likelihood that youth will appear for court at their future hearings.  The tool has been validated by nationally known researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to assure that it is objective for all youth.


COMISSIONER DOLAN: the JPAST is a very simple tool very brief, very quick… because it needs to be done during the intake process.


CHEIF JUSTICE NECHTEM: It’s an opportunity to assess, at that point of arraignment, as to whether or not that youth will be at risk from returning to court or not.


COMISSIONER DOLAN: So it’s really built on factors that are in the record that allow for a very quick determination that a youth is more or less likely to appear.


CHEIF JUSTICE NECHTEM: it allows the judge to consider more information in making the decision because the judge has to be responsible not only for the best interest of this child but also has to be mindful of public safety.


DUCI GONAÇALVES: I think the intent behind the tool is great and I think it if used appropriately it could be a great tool. Initially I was a little hesitant maybe apprehensive about it–does this mean that judges and probation are just rubberstamping these forms if somebody scores three is that a done deal and they’re gonna’ be detained?


COMISSIONER DOLAN: It isn't just a matter of filling out a tool, giving somebody a score, announcing in court. You know it doesn't exclude the consideration of other information; there may be other factors. That's the role of the defense attorney and the prosecutor. Because the tool ultimately is just that, it's a tool it’s one piece of information.


DUCI GONAÇALVES: I think the concerns that I initially had about this just being a rubberstamp and launching this kid into detention those have gone away the more that I've talked to people about the tool, the more that the tool is being used.


NARRATOR (22.1):  But the tool is not meant to only assist judges in making informed bail decisions at arraignment. The JPAST’s objective measurements have a direct impact on RED.


COMISSIONER DOLAN: There was a great deal of care taken to make sure that the tool didn't have any bias built into it: gender, race, ethnicity. It doesn't make any difference whether it's a male or female, a black youth, or Hispanic youth, or white youth.  This is a youth according to the validated risk instrument that has very low probability for failure to appear.


DUCI GONAÇALVES: While JPAST was being created public defenders were consulted, most juvenile stakeholders were involved in that to get input feedback, comments, suggestions from all parties so that it is an effective tool.


CHEIF JUSTICE NECHTEM: And what I love about it is that every stakeholder had input into how it would launch in our courts and we’ve had the benefit of Dr. Vincent from UMASS medical to present this extraordinary tool for our use.


NARRATOR (23.1):  These same researchers at UMASS Medical School have also worked with law enforcement to develop a similar tool at the police level known as the Massachusetts Arrest Screening Tool for Law Enforcement (MASTLE) to help police officers make decisions about which youth to divert from the system. .


DR. GINA VINCENT: my colleague Rachael and I have very recently as, you know, been working with… the DYS and probation and a lot of other players here in the JJ system here to help them make a tool that will… give some direction as to whether a youth should go into pretrial detention. And I think we could use the very same sort of process with you, uh for creating a tool you can use with Police… It’s split between items that uh, increase the likelihood of a youth’s failure to show up for arraignment and items that increase the likelihood of re-arrest.


CPT. GROPMAN: I like the use of an unbiased, objective instrument that will really just base upon the facts.


DR. GINA VINCENT: So there’s research methods that we can use to make sure that the tool is not biased. And in our world what biased would mean is that if and African American youth was more likely to score high on the tool than a white youth and the African American youth was not more likely to be rearrested than the white youth, then it would be biased.

The easy part is making the tool, the challenge is gonna be getting buy-in from police depts. and figuring out “what’s the most feasible way of implementing it?” I think that’s gonna be the hard part. I Think what we’ve done is the easy part.

We’ve seen the same thing when we’re implementing much bigger risk assessment tool with probation—officers—‘cause probation officers also have a lot of discretion. So…one of the issues to remember whenever we’re talking to police is—it’s not really there to take away your discretion; it’s there to help enhance the objectivity. It’s another piece of information that’s going to help make the decision scion…scientifically.


CPT. GROPMAN: That’s a good way to sell it.



MEGHAN GUEVARA: Having some objective tools can help level the playing field among different youth…to tease out where we are treating similarly situated youth in a similar way and where we’re not.


DUCI GONAÇALVES: We’ve talked about objective tools, that's helpful because that will help us decrease the number of kids of color being detained, but again you can't do any of this without actually having the numbers


NARRATOR (24.1):  Having accurate race and ethnicity data for all the decision points in the system, is essential for these conversations to begin, develop and continue. 


TIANA DAVIS: There has to be a willingness to review the data and to accept the data for what it tells us and in most cases, in my experience, when we look at data with an eye toward identifying racial and ethnic disparities they usually are there.


MEGHAN GUEVARA: Being able to ask those questions and figure out what our system needs to look like starts with objective decision-making and starts with having the data that tells us we are the gaps and where are we not treating youth the same even though they're coming in with some similar circumstances.


NAOKA CAREY: each county really needs to look at their data and get a sense of what's going on in my county why that, might that be happening what kinds of offenses are the kids in my county coming in for and are we treating kids equally? And so there is a lot to be done at the county level in every single county Massachusetts.


COMMISSIONER DOLAN: The system is aware that there's a problem. It's a priority for the trial court and it's a priority for probation. I think it begins with…and I think this is a key to any, you know, positive change, is starting to look at the data.


DUCI GONAÇALVES: With the Youth Advocacy Division we have a case management system where we collect that information. We ask our clients what their race and ethnicity is and then we put that into our system. But again that's just from our individual office, it needs to be done as the whole system.


CHIEF JUSTICE NECTEM: The sharing of data is important because just looking at the data from the Juvenile Courts is not enough. The data needs to surround the entire child


DUCI GONAÇALVES: There are different people working with the same population at different times…some people are collecting the information and others not. It becomes really difficult to get a big picture sense of what the numbers are and  what the issues are where we need to focus our attention


CHIEF JUSTICE NECTEM: So the responsibility lies in each and every one of the stakeholders that impact child welfare and juvenile justice issues.


LYNSEY HEFFERNAN: Collecting and analyzing data doesn't sound very exciting but it is critically important that we assess not only where we are today but to assure that we are achieving greater equity across our population.


NARRATOR (25.1):  Equipped with the data, personnel from across the system can begin the frank, honest conversation about the role of race and the disparities at each point along the line. Solid data supports these conversations and encourages every system worker to play a role in devising reduction strategies and solutions.


TIANA DAVIS: The first part of the conversation has to be a willingness to accept and understand that there, that there are disparities in the system for youth of color and a willingness to then address them.


CRYSTAL COLLIER: It's a hard conversation because we all have our own stuff. I find in the juvenile justice system most people are coming into the juvenile justice system because they want to make a difference and they want to make a positive difference.


KIMBERLY PAPILLON: the most difficult people to teach fairness to are people who value fairness the most. That's why it's so hard to get this message across.


CRYSTAL COLLIER: So, when somebody is confronted with, “oh by the way, did you know that you happened to send 60% of the persons of color on your caseload to detention, and then similarly situated kids actually get a better shot?” That's kind of hard to stomach. How do you get the result that you need? It may not always be talking to someone head-on about racial and ethnic disparities. It could be talking to someone about, “what is it that you want for youth in general?”


NATE BALIS: We either have the opportunity to do something that’s really good, that really can right a kid onto the right path, or we have the chance to do something that’s very, that’s very damaging.


NAOKA CAREY: Our society is changing. Children of color are not the minority population going forward in our society. If we are not successfully supporting children of color educationally and in our justice system, in a lot of different ways, then we are not building the future of our commonwealth or of our country.


COMMISSIONER FORBES: There have been periods of time where people would be able to say, “well that's really not the most important issue,” but I think the national picture is–is really forcing race to the discussion, which provides the opportunity for leadership. And I think there are number of different people in Massachusetts that would be willing to step up and lead.


COMISSIONER DOLAN: It's a priority throughout the trial court…It’s a national conversation and it's a Massachusetts conversation.


CHIEF JUSTICE NECHTEM: there is a commitment now from leadership that, uh, I just get really enthusiastic and excited about. And I know that we are going to be able to make some remarkable changes and positive reform in our juvenile justice and child welfare system.


LYNSEY HEFFERNAN: Kids from a variety of backgrounds enter the juvenile justice system for a wide array of reasons, and behaviors.

For each young person there are a series of decision makers, a teacher a police officer, a judge and the lawyers in the system who make decisions about that young person and the road to detention can be a very long one. White youth are far more likely than youth of color to find an exit ramp out of our system.  We can level the playing field for youth of color by engaging in a variety of different decision making. By collecting accurate and consistent data, by collaborating with all of our different system partners, by using objective tools to make sure that each of our decisions is fair and by being willing to have difficult and challenging conversations about race and ethnicity in the Commonwealth. Doing all of this we can identify and correct systemic drivers of racial disparities throughout our system.


NARRATOR: As members of the juvenile justice system we have the opportunity to create a system that is just and fair and treats all children equally regardless of their skin color. We will use our individual roles to guide youth beyond systemic hurdles and personal bias as they grow and become more productive members of society. This will not only improve our results but it will inspire other actors in the community–schools, child welfare, mental health systems­­–to instill equity in the ways we care for the youth of Massachusetts. 


Bring on the Resource Kit!

The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) in Massachusetts works to ensure that “the right youth, is in the right place, for the right reasons.”

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.