More Missouri Blacks Are Sent to Adult Courts

Feb 16, 2011 at 10:20 am

Another set of numbers has been compiled that suggests the Missouri justice system is plagued by racial disparities. This time, the stats indicate that a disproportionate number of black kids are transfered to adult courts, where they're threatened with prison time in place of jail.

Fourteen percent of Missouri residents between the ages of 12 and 17 are African-American, but 57 percent of juvenile offenders who are sent to adult courts are black, according to Kenneth J. Cooper, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist based in Boston, whose report appeared recently in His report was based on numbers crunched by the Missouri Department of Social Services.

The discrepancy is made more significant in light of the Missouri law requiring judges to consider racial disparity when deciding whether to try juveniles as adults, writes Cooper. It's possible that Missouri is one of the only states -- if not the only one -- to incorporate such a law.

Cooper writes that the disparity has been getting worse. In 2001, 33 percent of juveniles transferred to adult court were black. By 2008, black defendants made up 57 percent of juvenile transfers. (For white defendants, the number was 37 percent.) See statistics here.

Missouri is one of about a dozen U.S. states where juvenile judges aren't required to hold a probable cause hearing before an adult-court transfer -- even if it lacks prosecutive merit -- which could be the cause of the trend.

"Defense lawyers haven't generally been part of probable cause processes," Mae Quinn, co-director of Washington University's legal clinic, tells Daily RFT.