The police are among the most visible and visceral representatives of state power. In today’s society, their presence seems ubiquitous. They serve as the gatekeepers to the criminal legal system and play a critical role in feeding the prison industrial complex.
Six million Americans a year have involuntary contact with the police, excluding traffic stops (Weaver & Lerman, 2010). These encounters are often especially fraught and traumatizing for youth. Young people of color, in particular, have spoken out eloquently about the unwanted contacts with police in their communities.
In Chicago, thousands of juveniles are arrested every year by law enforcement. There are six possible decision points in the interaction between police and young people. Police have the power to decide the following:
1. Whether to conduct an investigatory stop involving a young person;
2. Whether to arrest a young person;
3. Whether to release a young person from police custody with a station adjustment;
4. Whether to refer a young person to Juvenile Court or to the Felony Review Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office for prosecution;
5. Whether to release a young person from police custody with no charges; and
6. Whether to request that a young person be held in detention until his initial court appearance.
Each of these decision points involves the police officers’ use of discretion. These points of contact determine whether or not a particular young person will ultimately be referred to court and held in detention.
While we know that thousands of young people in Chicago come into contact with law enforcement yearly, there is no broad-based public outcry over this reality. Arresting Justice is an attempt to provide relevant, timely and accessible data about juvenile arrests to community members in Chicago in the hopes of spurring action. The sponsors of this report are First Defense Legal Aid (FDLA) and Project NIA.
FDLA has been dedicated to issues of indigent defense, police accountability, and the protection of civil rights for over 15 years now.
Through community engagement, education, participatory action research, and capacity-building, Project NIA facilitates the creation of community-focused responses to violence and crime.
Both organizations believe that the first step to dramatically reducing juvenile arrests in Chicago is to mobilize our broader community to address the problem. Timely and relevant data documenting the scope of the issue is critical to such mobilization efforts. We hope that this report serves as a clarion call to those who are interested in preventing youth from getting caught up in the juvenile and criminal legal systems.
We hope to continue to update this report as more information about juvenile arrests in Chicago becomes available.
This report was produced and written by Mariame Kaba (Project NIA) and Caitlin Patterson (First Defense Legal Aid). We are especially grateful to Dan Cooper from the Institute on Public Safety & Social Justice at the Adler School for the terrific maps that are included in this report.
Mariame can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and Caitlin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can download the full report HERE
You can hear Mariame speaking about “Arresting Justice” on Urban Youth Justice Radio.
In July 2013, Project NIA updated this report with 2011 and 2012 data. You can find that information HERE.