‘A disjointed system’: Policing policies fuel criminalization of youth

“I thought Des Moines, Iowa, was gonna be better. But, you know, if you don’t change something, you’re going to still fall into the same thing you’ve been doing.” Melvin Gaye, Iowa juvenile offender. The history of police in America is a story of repeated promises to change from its gatekeepers, yet people of color, adolescents and other vulnerable populations say they continuously bear the brunt of its shortcomings. This report is part of Kids Imprisoned, an investigation of juvenile justice in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. For more stories, visit kidsimprisoned.news21.com.21 special report

Youth in America are criminalized every day, with racial and socioeconomic disparities further increasing their likelihood of being policed, arrested or killed by law enforcement.

The ununited state of juvenile justice in America

As a child in the United States, justice often depends on where you live, the color of your skin, which police officer arrests you, or which judge, prosecutor or probation officer happens to be involved in your case. Juvenile courts across the country processed nearly 750,000 cases in 2018. About 200,000 of these cases involved detention – removing a young person from home and locking them away, according to data from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. 

This report is part of Kids Imprisoned, an investigation of juvenile justice in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program. For more stories, visit kidsimprisoned.news21.com.21

Depending on where a young person lives, a crime like simple assault or gun possession could lead to a customized rehabilitation program with help from mentors. It also could mean confinement in a group home, where kids wear their own clothes and counselors call them by their first names.

Database: Iowa’s Opportunity Gap

U.S. Census data show where black and Latino Iowans have fallen behind white Iowans when it comes to income, jobs, home ownership and high school and college degrees. IowaWatch obtained an analysis of 50 years of U.S. Census data from the Colorado-based public service journalism organization I-News, a member of the Investigative News Network to which IowaWatch belongs.