Massachusetts Justice Policy Recommendations: Addressing Disproportionate Minority Contact

September 1, 2010
James Barrett (2007 Public Policy Summer Fellow)

This article makes several policy recommendations relating to the state of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts to address the problem of disproportionate minority contact (DMC). The article provides some recent historical perspectives, as well as accepted sociological theory to help clarify this problem. In responding to crime, law enforcement officials are confronted with a great many challenges and officer safety is paramount in any officer interaction, remaining a primary focus of police training nationally and internationally. However, an increasingly mobile society creates challenges extending beyond officer safety which have liability and other ramifications if not understood. These challenges include the varying opinions and attitudes ingrained in some minority groups that have developed over time as a result of both perceived and experienced contact with the American criminal justice system.
Without proper training, suburban practitioners serving predominantly Caucasian communities will have no cultural context from which to deal with the new, varied population that social mobility brings. The article recommends cultural diversity training to extend practitioners' ability to interpret the language, behaviours and actions of the various peoples with whom they are not intimately familiar and to make conscious decisions based upon real knowledge rather than attribute intent based upon biases and stereotypes.
The article further recommends that Massachusetts should examine national best practices and endeavour to improve and standardise the way in which data are collected, compiled and disseminated and the government should seek out these successful programmes and attach a representative to each to act as a conduit to various state agencies.