By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - Judges are not to blame for the disproportionate number of black youths sent to juvenile detention facilities in Cuyahoga County, according to a study by a Case Western Reserve University researcher.
William Sabol found that of 38,000 juvenile court cases prosecuted from 1997-99, judges treated white and black youths the same, but black teen-agers were twice as likely as whites to face juvenile detention, which follows the national trend.
Sabol told Cuyahoga County commissioners on Tuesday that the racial disparity is the result of the type of cases that come before judges. Black juveniles were more likely to be repeat offenders or facing drug charges, which both result in more severe sentences.
Blacks make up one-third of the youth population in the county, but comprise two-thirds of those sent to juvenile detention, the study showed.
Sabol's study is being evaluated as the county pursues a goal it set in 2000 to reduce the number of minority juveniles in detention facilities by 2005.
Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones said it's not an issue of race, but of poverty.
"It's not the failure of black parents. It's the difficulties of poor parents. ... That's really the dominant factor in why you might see one racial group or another overrepresented in our juvenile justice system," Jones said.
Sabol told commissioners that his study did not take into account other steps in the judicial system where racial unbalance may occur. He did not study who police arrest, how prosecutors charge juveniles or the number of cases that get dismissed.
Sharon Weitzenhof, director of the advocacy group Juvenile Justice Coalition, said those issues -- and the quality of legal representation black teen-agers receive -- need to be examined before getting a clear picture of racial disparity in the county's juvenile system.
Commissioner Timothy McCormack has recommended to county Prosecutor Bill Mason that the entire process be studied.
County Juvenile Judge Larry Jones suggested forming a countywide drug court that helps rehabilitates juvenile offenders, rather than send them to detention and watch them return to court as adults.
Like many Ohio counties, Cuyahoga County has a drug court program for those with low level felonies. Jones said the program needs to be expanded.
"We cannot have everybody in jail to solve the problem," he said. "What we're doing now is not working."