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Racial Disparity in Juvenile Justice: Insights from OJD’s Recent CLE Training

Last week, on February 9, 2024, Director of Children’s Defense Michelle Duprey with Chief Public Defender Woodrena Baker-Harrell and Assistant Public Defender Lyana Hunter joined us for a virtual Continuing Legal Education (CLE) training to discuss racial disparity in juvenile justice and how to address it in court. The focus of this training was discussing the prevalent issue of racial disparity within the juvenile justice system in North Carolina and formulating strategies to address it effectively.

Understanding the Importance of the Issue

Racial disparity in juvenile justice remains a serious concern, with marginalized communities disproportionately impacted by biased decision-making and unequal access to resources and support systems. This idea is supported by research continuously highlighting the differences in how juveniles from different racial and ethnic backgrounds are treated in the system, revealing cycles of inequity.

Insights from the Training

During the CLE training, the speakers alongside our Project Attorney Yolanda Fair, discussed the importance of bringing up race early in the process, how personal racial identity influences how attorneys see the case and how they express it to the court. The way attorneys handle racial biases could have implications for the youth in the system, therefore, it was essential for attendees to hear strategies to identify and challenge discriminatory practices.

Key topics covered in the training included:

  1. Bias Awareness / Personal Race Identity Mindfulness: Speakers discussed the concept of bias, their own experiences when practicing, and its impact on the decision-making processes within the legal system. By recognizing and acknowledging that biases exist, attorneys can take proactive steps to reduce their effects and ensure fair treatment for all juvenile clients.

  2. Cultural Competence: Effective representation of young clients demands an understanding of the cultural backgrounds and experiences. Speakers shared that becoming familiarized with the family structure and cultural practices help develop trust-based relationships with diverse communities. It was also shared that understanding where some behaviors come from might help when personalizing the case by humanizing the child.

  3. Advocacy Strategies: Speakers discussed the importance of taking into consideration the practice location and environment since this might change the strategy approach. Attorneys learned that reminding children and parents that as attorneys, they’re also a mothers/fathers, sisters/brothers, etc.… might lead to more open conversations giving more insight into the child’s life which will help when it’s time to implement the strategy. Informal and formal data collection was also discussed to better prepare for the case.

  4. Collaborative Approaches: Recognizing the overlapping nature of social issues, the speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration between legal practitioners, social workers, educators, and community stakeholders. By fostering partnerships and sharing collective experiences, professionals can work together to address the factors contributing to racial inequality in juvenile justice.

Hopefully participants left the training feeling equipped with knowledge and strategies to confront racial disparity in juvenile justice head-on. The Office of the Juvenile Defender (OJD) appreciates all attendees and collaborators for helping us foster awareness, advocacy, collaboration among legal professionals. Watch the full recording here. Don’t forget to register for upcoming trainings below!




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