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JANESVILLE

Even though the number of kids arrested in Rock County fell precipitously over a decade, racial disparities for Black youth persisted, according to data shared Thursday.

In 2008, there were 5,264 youth arrests in Rock County. That number decreased almost every single year, reaching 1,780 in 2018, the last year listed for this data point in a presentation on racial disparities in the local youth justice system.

Over the decade, Black kids made up between 28.3% (in 2010) and 35.5% (in 2012) of youth arrests in the county, despite making up just 8.4% of the youth population in 2010 and 9.6% of it in 2018—when they made up 32.9% of youth arrests.

Kelly Mattingly, head of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, shared the Sept. 30 presentation prepared by Kendra Schiffman, a data analyst with Rock County Human Services, in advance of a council meeting Thursday.

“That was one of the most useful and helpful PowerPoint presentations that I’ve seen,” Mattingly said Thursday.

The council, made up of local officials from the criminal justice system, has been working to address racial disparities, including in the juvenile justice system.

Like arrests, the data on youth in secure detention in Rock County has also dropped—going from 648 in 2008 to 217 in 2018, according to the presentation. Black youth were again disproportionately admitted to secure detention.

Janesville police, school officials diving into juvenile justice

The presentation said it used relative rate data to examine disparities at every decision point in the youth justice system, starting from arrests and court referrals to charges being filed and case dispositions.

In 2017, the most recent year included in the data, Black kids had a poverty rate that was 2.8 times higher than that of white kids. The disparity in arrest rate was higher at 4.6 times more than white kids that year.

Black kids also had a lower rate of cases being diverted in 2017.

From 2009 until 2017, the arrest rate for Black kids when compared to their white counterparts in Rock County has remained higher than when comparing their poverty rates.

Looking forward, the presentation ended with reform examples for the various decision points: school discipline, arrest, secure detention, youth justice referral, charges filed and disposition.

The examples, beyond ongoing bias training, include:

  • Minimizing criminal justice interventions in schools, moving away from zero-tolerance policies and implementing school-based diversion programs that take into account mental health needs.
  • Train police officers and school officers on adolescent development, systemic racism and ethnic disparities; limit any police contact with kids (especially youth of color); and decriminalize low-level behaviors, such as truancy.
  • Using diversion, such as deferred prosecution agreements, and monitoring the race and ethnicity of those who are being offered those agreements, which can help keep substantial crimes off someone’s record.

The council also discussed potential race issues in the jury selection process and had agencies provide updates on steps they’re taking to reduce racial disparities in their respective fields.

The next council meeting is set for 3 p.m. Nov. 19.