Youth of color in Santa Barbara County are 2.4 times more likely than white youth to be booked into juvenile hall.
That’s according to a new Relative Rate Index study presented by the Probation Department to the Board of Supervisors during its regular meeting Tuesday.
The RRI is a method developed by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to measure disproportionality and compare the experiences of different groups within the justice system. To calculate the RRI, a rate is determined for each racial/ethnic group at a particular point in the system. Then the rates for each group are then compared to the rate for individuals who identify as white, and the comparison determines the RRI.
The study on youth in the county, which centered on fiscal year 2019-2020, found that youth of color are 2.6 times more likely to be referred by law enforcement, 1.7 times more likely to have a petition filed with the District Attorney, 1.4 times more likely to have a petition sustained and 1.5 times more likely to be committed to detention. In addition, it was determined that youth of color and white youth are equally likely to be held at the Santa Maria Juvenile Hall for a detention hearing.
According to the results of the study, youth of color represent 63% of the county’s population between the ages of 10 and 17. With this in mind, Tanja Heitman, the county’s chief probation officer, said this data will give law enforcement officials a starting point to discuss how to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
“The RRI allows us to have a discussion about improving the criminal justice system while also recognizing that the overall health of our community is at the heart of the issue,” Ms. Heitman told supervisors. “We must continue to address the drivers of disparity at the earliest stages while making every effort to improve other decision points throughout the system.”
The study also examined the RRI of black and Hispanic adults in the county between January and March 2020. According to the results, black adults are 3.5 times more likely to be booked, 0.7 times less likely to be placed on pretrial supervision and 1.8 times more likely to receive a state prison deposition.
The study also found that Hispanic adults are 1.4 times more likely to be booked, 0.6 times less likely to be placed on pretrial supervision, 1.2 times more likely to receive county jail disposition and twice as likely to receive a state prison disposition.
In addition, the study found that black adults were found to be equally likely as white adults to receive a county jail disposition.
To address the racial disparities outlined in the report, the Probation Department has a long list of “next steps,” which includes expanding the use of pretrial supervision, expanding diversion alternatives and limiting system involvement for lowest risk individuals and launching a Shared Safety initiative that will look at disparities through a public health perspective.
“We all really have the same goal — we all want to feel safe in our community,” Ms. Heitman said. “We all want people to be treated justly and fairly in our community, and if we focus on those common goals with the priority for a public health approach to the problem, an emphasis on prevention and always putting our victims first, that we can make significant strides in these areas.”
Following the presentation, Supervisor Gregg Hart praised the Probation Department for its work on the study and said the data provides “ground-based truth” to begin a conversation on racial disparities.
Moving forward, the supervisors requested further evaluation of factors that contribute to disparities in the criminal justice system, such as economic status. Officials from the probation department noted that the RRI does not address factors that influence racial inequity, but instead looks at specific law enforcement decision points.