AUGUSTA — More than 40 people discussed the effect of racism in Maine’s juvenile justice system during a forum Tuesday night at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta.

The Injustice in Justice forum included several speakers, breakout sessions and group conversations on how to come up with tangible ways to combat systemic racism in Maine’s legal and correctional system.

The purpose of the forum was not just to look at and learn about racism, but to see it, said Jerome Bennett, the disproportionate minority contact coordinator for the Maine Department of Corrections.

“We have to see it, because when we see, we don’t forget,” Bennett said.

Much of the discussion centered on a 2015 University of Southern Maine study on the disproportionate number of  people of color in the state’s juvenile justice system. Data gathered for years up to 2012 showed that in Kennebec County, there were five nonwhite young people detained for every two white youths.

The study showed disproportionate detentions in five of the six counties where it could be measured – the other 10 had too few cases to provide data.

Kennebec and Somerset counties District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said the results were shocking but accurate.

“We’ve been looking at how we can have a truly rehabilitative juvenile system,” Maloney said. “The focus of the change in the juvenile justice system has been a move to restorative justice, and the idea behind that is to connect youth to the community that they have become disconnected with.”

Restorative justice focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community.

“We’ve had other programs that are unfortunately not growing due to lack of funding, including many of our after-school programs,” Maloney said. “It is devastating and very concerning to me because we know that these programs have been successful for youth. But we know that losing these programs will lead to increased cases in the juvenile justice system.”

Bennett said the discussion of racial disparity in the criminal justice system is not an easy one to have, but he hopes forums like this educate people.

“The subject of race makes people uncomfortable,” Bennett said.

A lot of times, Bennett said, nonwhite young people don’t feel they are engaging with people who really understand what they’re going through.

“When you are engaging with youth of color, it is important that you know and understand the disparities they are dealing with as a person of color,” he said.

Bennett said trying to get systemic racism reform is made harder when people in power say things that inflame certain stereotypes and mindsets.

“The kids that I work with hear it and get discouraged, and (the rhetoric) ends up justifying beliefs they already have, and it polarizes communities,” Bennett said.

The Rev. Chrissy Cataldo, of the United Church of Christ in Winthrop, helped plan the event, along with other religious leaders, Bennett and Rachel Talbot Ross, of the Portland chapter of the NAACP.

“We’ve been looking for ways that we can be advocates to stop racism in the state of Maine, and we consider it part of our faith commitment,” Cataldo said. “The attack last week in Orlando reminds us of the work we have to do, and this seems to be a way to act … .”