An Update on Numbers for Native and Latinx Youth Supports Moves for Decarceration

This month, the Sentencing Project released their second and third fact sheets on racial and ethnic disparities in youth incarceration focusing on Native and Latinx* youth. We highlighted the first fact sheet on the disparities in incarceration for black youth here.

The fact sheet on Native Youth shows that they are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, an increase since 2001. These disparities are well known by Native communities and are the underlying reason why in Washington State the non-profit Huy (pronounced “hoyt” in Coast Salish language) has vehemently opposed the building of the new youth jail in Seattle. Huy is a non-profit providing “economic, educational, rehabilitative and religious support for Native America, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian prisoners.” This article by Indian County Today, highlights the roots of this problem:

[T]he school to prison pipeline includes the racist harassment of law enforcement, the higher concentration of police in poor neighborhoods and schools and a clogged judicial system. The result is a bureaucratic vacuum cleaner that yanks at-risk kids out of their schools and into a machine they are often stuck in for the rest of their lives.

The front side of an infographic created by the National Congress of American Indians illustrates the school-to-prison pipeline.

Further, for Native Youth a connection between incarceration and intergenerational trauma is very clear— these are young people whose cultures have often been decimated by racist policies and practices and who live with the trauma inherited by parents and grandparents. Instead of helping individuals reconnect to their tribe or community in order heal from the injuries of state inflicted violence, our society has responded with a carceral system that further breaks down individuals both emotionally and spiritually and further separates them culturally.

Also, what these fact sheets continue to display is that as cities, counties and states implement diversion programs and alternative sentencing, race plays a major factor as to whether our young people are able to access such programs. This should not be the case. In a letter to the Seattle City Council, Huy Board of Advisors Chairman Galanda wrote to the council:

Local Native youth are infrequently offered opportunities for diversion. These points track with findings of the Washington Supreme Court’s Task Force on Race and the Criminal Justice System, which reveals persistent disparate treatment of Native youth at each stage of Washington’s juvenile system.

The back side of an infographic created by the NCAI infographic includes some examples of how different tribes are addressing the school-to-prison pipeline problem.

This reality is also true for Latinx youth, who according to the Sentencing Project fact sheet on Latino Disparities in Youth Incarceration, are 65% more likely to be detained or committed than their white peers. That rate is likely higher as in many jurisdictions latinxs are labeled as white.

Luckily, the work done by many community organizations exposes the root causes of these disparities. For example, Resilience Orange County released their recent report (in collaboration with the Advancement Project) that estimates how much the City of Santa Ana, California spends to arrest and suppress youth ages 0-19 rather than provide youth programming that supports healthy youth development. The data found that in 2017, the City of Santa Ana will spend $19.55 million on arresting youth, while only spending $15.2 million on city-sponsored youth development programs—or phrased in other terms, “Santa Ana spends $143 per youth on positive youth development, while it spends $12,722 each to arrest 1,537 youth.” According to the report, in Santa Ana Latinx youth disparities are even higher than the average, with Latinx youth representing 91% of the youth arrested when they makeup 78% of the youth population.

Resilience Orange County is a non-profit that "promotes resilient youth leaders that work towards social-systemic transformation while promoting healing, trauma-informed and culturally relevant practices that are inclusive of all members of the community." Community organizations like Resilience Orange County continue to step in to both fill the gaps left by our system and highlight the problems with our current criminal justice systems by proving real and culturally appropriate youth engagement opportunities.

For many of us, imagining the impossible—a criminal justice system that is not focused on incarceration as accountability—is difficult. But, for individuals like youth of color and queer and transgender youth of color whose very existence is often challenged, believing in an alternative to our carceral system is actually possible. We must listen to these voices. One such campaign uprooting our ideas of what is possible is the “I Am Possible,” campaign. The campaign is raising the voices of Southern California Youth who are calling for more funding for youth to make their possibilities a reality (you can follow on Instagram @iampossiblesocal). An excerpt from one story by Hakim, age 15 in South LA:

My far out dream for myself is to live on the moon. Or to be an artist or an astronomer. But right now, there aren’t programs in my community that tackle extra-curricular interests, like astronomy and marine biology and not enough funding for community youth centers...Youth around me are facing a lot of mental health issues and domestic abuse, and we need more suicide prevention programs and improved counseling services. We need to improve health equity programs, like those that teach students how to live and cope with a lot of stress.

Hakim's Full Story Linked here. Photo Credit: @iampossiblesocal

From Hakim’s words, we have the answers to what our youth need which does not include prisons. From his words, we can also see that when we call for ending youth and adult prisons, it’s not about just working to close the doors to our institutions that enact more violence on our communities. It’s about building up and recovering institutions and practices that nurture wholeness, self-determination and transformation today and now.

*Latinx (pronounced: La-teen-ex)  is the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina and Latin@.

Lill M. Hewko

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Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People's Movement Western Regional Conference

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