INVESTIGATING THE ROLE OF RACE AND
CULTURE IN THE U.S. JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
By Brenda McKinney*
Emotional. Disturbing. Uplifting. These words have been used to describe recent events
that have, along with titles like Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow1, reopened a broad discussion
about issues at the intersection of race relations, culture and youth who offend in the United States.
More specifically, a series of unfortunate and high profile deaths—such as Mike Brown in
Ferguson, Walter Scott in North Carolina and Trayvon Martin in Florida2—have highlighted the
need for discourse on how to appropriately support historically marginalized groups.
3 Even U.S.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has stated that, America has a “real racial problem.”
Her colleague, Justice Sonya Sotomayor, echoed this sentiment while speaking to law students in
September 2014, stating that “we all aspire to a color-blind society [...] But the reality is that as
much as we wish it away, it makes a difference in society. Society is affected by it at every level.”
Accordingly, the purpose of this Article is to contribute to conversations through the
development of ideas that offer a better system—one that offers equal and fair treatment to all
youth regardless of their color, culture or ethnicity by providing a cursory review of the current
*J.D., Loyola University Chicago School of Law (2013); M.Ed., Boston College (2010); LLM Candidate, University
of Otago. Correspondence concerning this article should be directed to the author, email:
1MICHELLE ALEXANDER, THE NEW JIM CROW: MASS INCARCERATION IN THE AGE OF COLORBLINDNESS
(2010)(discussing issues surrounding race and incarceration in the United States, with particular focus on African
American males from a legal viewpoint, and arguing the need for a new social movement that will change the culture
around mass incarceration).
2See This American Life, Cops See It Differently: Part One, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (Feb. 6, 2015),
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/547/cops-see-it-differently-part-one (providing an overview
of the cases mentioned and the debate surrounding race, policing, justice and trust in the United States); This American
Life, Cops See It Differently: Part Two, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (Feb. 13, 2015), www.capradio.org/news/this-
american-life/2015/02/15/cops-see-it-differently,-part-two/ (discussing implicit bias and how or why police leadership
are or are not discussing race, in order to strengthen communities and especially in light of cases where unarmed black
men are shot by police); Ariel Edwards-Levy, More than Six Months After Ferguson, Americans Remain Deeply
Divided, HUFFINGTON POST (Feb. 18, 2015), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/18/ferguson-poll-race-
relations_n_6708268.html?ir=Black+Voices&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000047. See also Michael S. Schmidt & Matt
Apuzzo, South Carolina Officer is Charged with Murder of Walter Scott, N.Y. TIMES (Apr. 8, 2015),
death.html?_r=0; Conor Friedersdorf, The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore, THE ATLANTIC (Apr. 22, 2015),
Team, From Trayvon to Garner: Deaths Spark Anger, SKYNEWS (Apr. 28, 2015),
3Race Reporting Guide, RACE FORWARD
1, 19 (2015),
f; Richard S. Hill & Brigitte Bonisch-Brednich, Politicizing the Past: Indigenous Scholarship and Crown-Maori
Reparations Process in New Zealand, 16 SOC. LEGAL STUD. 173,176 (2007).
4Marcia Coyle, Ginsburg on Rulings, Race, 36 NAT’L L. J. 1, 1 (2014).
5 Deborah Cassens Weiss, Race Makes a Difference in Society Sotomayor Says, AM. B. ASS’N J. (Sep. 12, 2014),