Friday, September 29, 2006

About half of the inmates in Ohio’s juvenile prisons are black, even though blacks account for only 14% of Ohio’s population of males ages 14 to 20

Alayna DeMartini:

The disparity between white and black is even wider in the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center, a jail for youths awaiting trial on serious violent crimes. On an average day, the ratio of black to white is 3-to-1. The gap has grown since last year, when the ratio was 2-to-1 on average.

Ohio and other states are looking at the racial makeup of young people who are arrested and locked up. The review is required by the federal government for states to continue receiving a grant for delinquency programs. Ohio will receive $2 million this year.

Part of the effort is to try to figure out what’s happening in neighborhoods such as Linden and the Near East Side. Since 2003, more youths in the detention center have been from Linden than any other neighborhood. Linden also ranked first in minority youths in the center last year, and the Near East Side was second.

Residents of Linden — north of Downtown and east of the University District — and the Near East Side are predominantly poor and black. Last month, a group of Linden residents began a neighborhood survey to document problems, such as drug houses, and assets, such as after-school programs.

The survey will help pinpoint what leads young people from those neighborhoods into trouble, said Yeura Venters, director of the Franklin County public defender’s office.

"It seems like the only time we are responsive to the needs of families and youths are when they are in crisis," Venters said. "We can constantly lock up people. We can constantly arrest them, but we’re not changing behaviors."

So many young people were sent to juvenile prisons last year that Franklin County lost more than a third of its annual state funding for programs that are alternatives to confinement. State statistics show that nearly 25 percent of the young offenders in Franklin County were sent to juvenile prisons last year, the highest rate among the 10 counties with the largest caseloads. And the county’s detention center was so overcrowded last year that Juvenile Court judges limited confinement to those charged with felonies or who were at high risk of fleeing or hurting someone.

A stay in the detention center didn’t change Dominic, said his mother, Elsie McCall, who adopted him five years ago. His childhood was unstable, which she blames in part on both his biological mother and his grandmother being in foster care when they were young. One reason so many young black males end up in trouble is they come from homes where "children are raising children," she said. "They don’t have a chance."

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