DMC stands for Disproportionate Minority Contact, but what does it mean? It means that kids of different races don't face a level playing field when they step out of line, as many teenagers will do. It means that, although black kids make up 13% of young people in Texas, they make up 23% of the youth sent to juvenile probation, and 33% of the youth sent to youth prisons--differences that cannot be explained by differential rates of committing crimes. It means that, even if no individual adult in our educational and juvenile justice system makes decisions based on prejudice, there are biases built into the systems themselves that stack the odds against kids of color.
In 2005, Dr. Dottie Carmichael at the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M published some landmark research on the extent of DMC in Texas. The Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center at Texas Prairie View A&M has also published research on the issue. Reading the DMC studies and talking about the issue with the Juvenile Justice Roundtable last month, two things stand out.
First, the biggest risk factor for being referred to the juvenile justice system is having a disciplinary history at school. And who is that gets in trouble at school? We can look to research from Texas Appleseed showing that black children are disciplined--suspended, expelled, or sent to alternative school--at significantly higher rates than other children in Texas schools. They are getting in trouble at school for things that could be handled informally (and effectively) by teachers and principals. Getting in trouble at school sets the course towards juvenile probation.
The second thing I take from the research is that actual race bias in the juvenile justice system, once a child or youth is already in the system, does not show up as significant with black youth, but, there is a statistically significant impact for Hispanic youth. That is, Hispanic youth have certain prosecution outcomes in the system because they are Hispanic, as opposed to because of their offense, city, or family status. Being able to see these distinct pathways for youth of different racial and ethnic backgrounds helps us know where we most need to focus our educational and policy efforts--so thanks to the research community!The federal government may soon help push Texas and other states to do more to level the playing field for youth…the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act is up for reauthorization. In its current form in the U.S. Senate, the Act would require states to take strategies to reduce DMC, including creating a DMC coordinating body, analyzing key decision points, doing better data collection and tracking, implementing a work plan with measurable objectives, and publicly reporting their progress. Texans Care has joined its voice to many others supporting these strengthened DMC provisions. You, too, can take this small step towards creating a world where a child's odds of going to prison has nothing to do with the color of his skin.