Longform

DIE LIKE A MAN

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Frosty was one of ten kids born to a loving but uneducated woman struggling with a drinking problem and a man who spent his life in and out of prison. Several of Frosty's brothers have, at one time or another, been in prison, mostly on theft or drug charges.

This time Frosty was charged with his first violent crime, after five juvenile court "adjudications" for offenses ranging from theft to attempted arson.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office asked that Frosty be transferred to adult court, and the juvenile court agreed. Frosty was led away in manacles. He was later sentenced to four years in state prison.

"The judge was mistaken in transferring Frosty," says the Reverend David Myers, a lawyer and Jesuit priest in Guadalupe who had known Frosty for years. Nine hours after Frosty was sentenced to prison, a guard found him hanging from a light fixture in his cell, and proved Myers right. The unheralded death of a tough little guy who had spent a quarter of his short life in lockup would be just another grim, small-print tragedy but for one thing.

If he'd been Anglo, Frosty might still be alive.
If he'd been Anglo, he might not have been sent to Adobe again and again, and instead to a community-based treatment program in which someone might have taught him to read. And if he'd been Anglo, he might not have been transferred to the adult prison for getting into a fight.

If he'd been Anglo.
@rule:
@body:Arizona's juvenile justice system is blatantly racist in its handling of troubled kids. It's not just the oft-repeated statistic that minority kids are three to six times as likely to be arrested as Anglo kids. Once in the system, minority kids receive dramatically fewer services than Anglo kids accused of the same crimes.

Both Anglo and minority kids who run afoul of the law have generally been abused, abandoned or neglected. They generally suffer from overwhelming educational, emotional and psychological problems. But the Anglo kids are two or three times as likely to receive hospitalization, counseling, family therapy or placement in community treatment facilities.

Minority kids, on the other hand, are two or three times as likely to be locked up in the most secure, least therapeutic facilities or to be transferred to adult court--like Frosty was. "It's a racist system, but that's like saying it doesn't rain much in Arizona," says Peg Bortner, professor of juvenile justice at Arizona State University. Bortner has been studying transfers of juveniles to adult courts; her study will be released in September. "It's a racist society in which entire institutions are structured in such a way that they have racist effects--even when those structures are intended to be benevolent."

The following statistics come from the Arizona Department of Youth Treatment and Rehabilitation, from Bortner's report and from studies prepared for the Governor's Task Force on Juvenile Corrections:

Black teens in Arizona are six times as likely to be imprisoned as are Anglos. The commitment rate for black youths increased 67 percent between 1985 and 1989.

Minority kids receive longer, harsher sentences in the juvenile justice system. Minority youths are also three times as likely to be transferred to the adult system as are Anglos. Anglos represent only about 37 percent of the youths in the juvenile justice system, but about 70 percent of those in community-based treatment facilities. Anglo kids are much more likely to have received counseling and other services. The overwhelming majority of the people who run community-based treatment programs are Anglo, which makes adjustment difficult for minority kids.

The system becomes more unequal at each link in the chain. In Maricopa County, Anglos account for 70 percent of the teenage population, 55 percent of the juvenile arrests and 45 percent of those transferred to adult court. Blacks compose 4 percent of the teenage population, 12 percent of the arrests and 25 percent of the youths transferred to the adult system. Hispanics account for 19 percent of the teenage population, 36 percent of the arrests and 28 percent of the youths transferred to the adult courts.

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Peter Aleshire