Reducing Harmful Consequences

People living in high-crime communities are exposed to high levels of violence as victims. The youth of color is overrepresented at the justice system level. These law enforcement practices focus on and respond to young people of color differently, increasing their involvement in juvenile justice and the criminal justice system. Moreover, law enforcement applies greater use of force to people of color, as exemplified by incidents of unarmed Black men dying at the hands of police.

The juvenile justice systems mainly address problems handled elsewhere, such as school discipline issues. However, this pathway is disproportionately used for youth of color in the justice system. Increased involvement with the justice system interferes with school completion and employment in a negative cascade (Nesbit, 2015).

The children are more often exposed to trauma and humiliation when their parents are stopped by police, arrested, and incarcerated at disproportionate levels. Schools that have potential as prevention and intervention settings also sometimes take harsh approaches to discipline, including suspension. Such techniques are also used more often with young people of color. One reason for this could be the increased presence of law enforcement in schools. This seems to increase the likelihood of referral to justice systems for infractions that can be managed within the school.

The youth of color are more likely to live in disadvantaged communities where informal social controls over time and disorder are weak. The perception of police illegitimacy interferes with harnessing resources to control crime and disorder. Strict detaining policies then exacerbate disproportionalities at entry in the justice system, which exceeds longer and harsher sentences than necessary.

Incarceration and criminal histories interrupt growth and lock people into poverty, removing them from many public benefits (Maciolek, 2020). Later, when a community reaches some critical mass of criminal justice involvement, the effects of poverty, disadvantage, and crime are mutually reinforcing. This happened acutely in concentrated disadvantaged communities, often predominantly African Americans.

The multiple issues that need to be addressed require an assortment of efforts. An efficient step is needed to consider changes to policy and practices that affect people of color. Much of the work required involves removing counterproductive policies that lead to unnecessary and detrimental restrictions, arrests, detention, and incarceration. Promising approaches should be developed to improve the misconduct by considering positive methods that minimize justice system involvement. Reforms in almost all aspects of juvenile justice and criminal justice are more likely to benefit people of color to mitigate the endemic overrepresentation of people of color in the juvenile justice and criminal justice system.


Maciolek, A. (2020). 6 policies to address social problems affecting Black boys and men. Brookings.

Nesbit, J. (2015). Institutional racism is our way of life. U.S. News.

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