by Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Program Administrator II
It was 2017 when Pinal County Juvenile Court Services decided it was time to look at racial and ethnic disparities. Officials wanted to find out if there were more youth from one race or ethnic background being arrested than others.
An analysis was conducted by looking throughout the system from arrest to disposition. It was found that the greatest disparity of arrests was at the point of arrest for African-American youth. Further analysis revealed which cities and neighborhoods had the highest arrest rates for African-American youth. This information was shared with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Department, leading both agencies to realize action needed to be taken.
Juvenile Court Services and the Sheriff’s Department hosted a collaborative meeting with community partners to discuss what was contributing to disproportionately high arrest rates for youth of color. This frank discussion looked at how the agencies could work together to create solutions. There were over 40 participants including representation from the bench, local behavioral health agencies, Board of Supervisors, Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, HOAs, County Attorney’s Office, Public Defenders’ Office and local school districts.
The group reviewed crime maps and statistics, discussed identified disparities and potential contributing factors, and ultimately decided that to create sustainable change, relationships between community members of color and law enforcement needed to be strengthened. Local law enforcement needed to get to know the children and families in their jurisdictions, and vice versa, so there could be mutual trust and respect.
The group created a planning committee for Community Outreach Events (CORE), an effort to put on community events in neighborhoods with high arrest rates for youth of color. The goal was to provide opportunities for youth and families to build and strengthen relationships with local law enforcement.
The CORE Planning Committee, under the leadership of Juvenile Court and the Sheriff’s Department, put on events in four neighborhoods in 2019. Every event had over 1,000 community members attending. There were face painters, bounce houses, recreational activities and raffles. Attendees were given “police officer autograph cards” and had to introduce themselves to local police officers to obtain their signatures, which could then be redeemed for raffle tickets. Culinary students from a local community college barbecued, providing free meals.
More community members showed up than the planning committee could have hoped for. Resembling neighborhood block parties, there were police officers playing basketball with kids, families enjoying activities with court staff while learning about issues in their own neighborhood.
Juvenile Court Director Denise Smith attributes the success to “the partnerships we have established over the past three to four years. My staff have done an excellent job at recruiting and engaging our youth system partners, nonprofit, county leadership and communities. When we develop these partnerships, there is an expectation that we deliver improved and innovative solutions, and that, I believe we have accomplished.”
Sheriff Mark Lamb says, “CORE events give us the opportunity to interact with teens and children, to make that crucial positive first impression. If we can form good relationships with our young people now, we have a better chance of not seeing them pass through the juvenile court system.”
The CORE Planning Committee is identifying which neighborhoods to go to next. Members will continue their mission to eradicate racial and ethnic disparities in juvenile justice and expect to see greater reductions in arrest rates for youth of color as they continue to strengthen relationships between community members and law enforcement.
For more information on Juvenile Court Services visit www.pinalcountyaz.gov/juvenilecourtservices or call 520-866-7065.
Since the start of this committee, there has been:
- A 15% decrease in all juvenile arrests.
- A 28% decrease in African American juvenile arrests county-wide.
In the targeted areas where community events have taken place:
- A 27% decrease in all juvenile arrests.
- A 38% decrease in African American juvenile arrests.