1997-11-18 Grand Haven Tribune Opinion "Forum is a step in the right direction"

Forum is a step in the right direction
Grand Haven Tribune

The statistics bear out the complaints.

Minorities have complained in the past that minority juvenile offenders were treated differently from Caucasian offenders.

They were right.

A recent Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice report revealed that of first-time felons, 37.5 percent of Hispanic juveniles were detained as compared to 3 percent of whites.

The study used case files from Ottawa County's juvenile court from March 1, 1995 to March 26, 1996.

The statistics alarmed County Commissioner Luciano Hernandez enough that he conducted a forum on the issue last week.

Residents packed the Holland Community Education Building to express their feelings on the study and the forum provided an excellent opportunity for residents to discuss their concerns.

One Hispanic women told the group that her son was labeled a gang member because of his shoes. "I bought those shoes for him, and I have no idea about the hangs," she said.

County Probate Judge mark Feye said the court requested the MSU study because they were suspicions that minority juvenile offenders were being treated differently.

We commend Feyen and all the other court officials for taking the initiative to address what could have turned into a very serious problem.

We are encouraged that a task force is being formed to attempt to implement recommendations suggested through the study. Among them are:

  • The addition of cultural diversity training for employees.
  • Increasing bilingual capabilities.
  • Explore gang resistance training.
  • Offer support for the continued development and application of mentoring programs for delinquent youths.

We feel shift action is needed to improve the juvenile justice system to that it offers fairness to everyone.