Kalamazoo is working to correct a decades-old problem within its community. City officials have declared racism as a public health crisis.
Over the course of a year, the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, Kalamazoo government officials and community leaders worked together to better understand the experiences of young Black people in the juvenile justice system. The report, Closing the Gate Creating an Anti-Racist Juvenile Justice System in Kalamazoo, outlines the findings of the project to assess racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and makes recommendations to create an anti-racist youth justice framework.
Citing data from the Michigan State Police, Black youth are arrested and prosecuted at substantially higher rates compared to white youth. Black youth, who account for 14% of the population, accounted for 64% of youth arrests in Kalamazoo County in 2019.
Jason Smith, the executive director of the Michigan Center for Youth Justice, says the goal is to find solutions to the problems highlighted by the report. There was already a foundation in the city to do this work, he says.
“One of our recommendations is to foster a culture of anti-racism, where people are not stopping on the identification, but actually seeking innovative ways to address the concerns.”
Smith says the community is ready to put solutions in place to reform the juvenile justice system. Smith says across the country there are examples of practices that are working.
“Community restorative boards, where they engage with a young person review their case and come up, help come up with solutions that again, repair the harm to the victim, but then also allows the young person to be held accountable in a way that still makes them able to be welcomed and accepted into the community.”
Listen: How leaders in Kalamazoo are working to reform the juvenile justice system.