This post is courtesy of Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs
Last week I attended the President’s announcement of his new initiative, “My Brother’s Keeper,” a plan to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and play by the rules has the chance to reach his full potential. The initiative is aimed at finding ways the federal government, community leaders, the private sector and philanthropies can create more opportunities for young men of color and send the message that our country is stronger when all Americans are doing well.
A key goal of this effort is to address the overrepresentation of African American and Latino men in the criminal and juvenile justice systems and reduce the rates of violence and victimization that they experience. At the Office of Justice Programs we’re taking what we know about adolescent development and working to promote a juvenile justice system that is both effective and fair.
Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that African American young men between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest rate of violent victimization of any race or age group. For African American young men between 10 and 24, homicide is not only the leading cause of death, but it results in more deaths than the next four leading causes combined. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for Latino youth in the same age group. At the same time, the rates of arrest and incarceration for young men of color are disproportionately high. African American youth make up just 16 percent of the overall youth population but more than half of the juvenile population arrested for committing a violent crime. As the President said, “these statistics should break out hearts. And they should compel us to act.”
It is in our collective interest to recognize that the image many people of color have of our criminal justice system is that it is biased against their young men. We need to simultaneously work to build trust and to end the violence that threatens so many of our youth. The reality is that no one wants to see these problems – not the families who live in these communities, and not the officers who keep the communities safe. The Justice Department’s COPS Office and Community Relations Service, for example, are striving to build trust and mutual respect and a stronger relationship between law enforcement officials and the neighborhoods they serve. These programs work closely with law enforcement and human service agencies to identify these challenges and design effective solutions.
At the Department of Justice we are engaged in a number of efforts to encourage and facilitate this collaboration. The National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, which is led by the White House and involves the Justice Department and other federal agencies, brings all major community stakeholders together to develop strategies for addressing youth violence – citizens, community and faith-based groups, law enforcement, public health, businesses, and philanthropies. Our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention also manages the Community-Based Violence Prevention Demonstration Program, which supports evidence-based violence reduction efforts that involve community residents in changing norms and helping their youth find a way to avoid crime and violence. Through the Defending Childhood initiative, we are promoting early intervention programs designed to put kids who are exposed to violence back on the path to healthy development and steer and harmful behavior. And we provide support for mentoring services that help children who have parents behind bars, and work to keep young people from entering the school-to-prison pipeline.
But the Department of Justice is only one part of the response. The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will rely on the resources of the private sector and philanthropies to use evidence-based solutions to strengthen and replicate programs that work, and reinforce to our young people the message that their country believes in them enough to invest in their success.
Working together, we can – and will – make a difference.