JCDHE Celebrates Black History Month: Volunteer works to reduce the number of minority youth in jail

JCDHE Celebrates Black History Month
Sharon Turner

Black History Month, celebrated each February, is an opportunity to learn about, celebrate and honor the central role Black and African-American people have played in the United States in both the past and the present.

This month, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment celebrates and honors Black and African-American community leaders in Johnson County who have been at the forefront of creating positive change in Kansas. The work they do improves the well-being of their communities and paves the way for a healthier future for all.

Sharon D. Turner spent her entire career around young people. An educator by trade, she worked for 30 years as a teacher and administrator in early childhood education, elementary school education and junior college.

Since retiring from teaching and moving to Johnson County 23 years ago, Turner has found many opportunities to volunteer and get involved in the community – Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Harvesters Community Food Network, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission School Districts, The Children’s Place, New Haven Seventh-day Adventist Church and the Johnson County NAACP.

One of her passion projects is serving as a community representative on the Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee of Johnson County. She is concerned by the fact that in Johnson County, Black and Brown youth, especially Black youth, are disproportionately incarcerated in the juvenile justice system.

Research indicates that communities of color experience arrest rates and interactions that are disproportionately higher compared to their percentage of the population. Data from 2021-2023 shows the arrest rate in Johnson County for Black/African American youth was more than four times higher and almost 1.7 times higher for Hispanic youth when compared to White youth.

When communities of color face more arrests and imprisonment, it disrupts their access to healthcare, education and stable living conditions. Addressing these disparities and the social factors that lead to them is essential to promoting overall public health and working towards a more equitable and just society.

"I’m convinced that there are a lot of well-meaning people, but until judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials acknowledge their role in creating and perpetuating this disparity, the numbers will not change," Turner said.

Although progress has often been slow and not exponential, she has found some satisfaction in the fact that the disparity has not continued to increase. Turner hopes that one day there will be no disproportionality in the rate of arrests, detention and conviction of Black and White youth.

"I am encouraged by the fact that members of the criminal justice system who serve on the DMC are continuing to work with community members to solve this long-ingrained problem," Turner said.

Health and Environment