War on Race and the Juvenile Justice System Essay

The United States was founded on the principles of individual freedom, equality and due process in a democratic society, but in the area of the justice system, these principles have often been challenged. The extended reach of the criminal justice system has been far from uniform in its effects upon different segments of the population. Although the number of women prisoners has increased in recent years at a more rapid pace than men, the criminal justice system as a whole still remains overwhelming male approximately 87 percent.

Disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system has been a national policy issue since 1992 when Congress amended the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. The amendments required states participating in the Federal Formula Grants Program to determine the existence of disproportionate minority representation, assess the causes, develop and implement corrective interventions, and evaluate those interventions; and to fund programs addressing gender issues.

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States that failed to make progress or show good faith efforts towards reducing disproportionate minority representation risked losing one-quarter of their formula grant funds and having to expend the remaining proportion towards achieving progress. When viewing the juvenile justice system one must view the system as a whole. Not only should it be analyzed as a whole but broken down into different subcultures as race, sex, social class, and so forth to get to the cure of the problem.

Social class as well as race plays a major role in the system from the first contact to the end of the process. The earliest known code of laws (the Code of Hammurabi) took specific note of the duties of children to parents and prescribed punishment for violations. As legal systems were elaborated the age of offenders continued to be important in defining responsibility for criminal behavior. English common law, for example held that children under the age of seven were incapable of criminal intent.

The legal status of juvenile delinquent is important in defining, but does not fully encompass the social role of juvenile justice. A youth who has been taken into custody by the police or committed to an institution or other wised disposed of by the court are likely to be defined as a delinquent in his/her community, parents, friends, neighbors and society as a whole. The term delinquent subcultures refer to delinquent behavior with supporting norms, values, and structures which is traditional among members of a group or several groups of youth.

Prior research across the country has established that disproportionate minority representation can be attributed to:1) Greater involvement of minority youth in crime, and;2) Inequitable treatment of minority youth during their processing across various decision points of the juvenile justice system. According to the disproportionate minority contact (DMC) proportion of youth of color who pass through the juvenile justice system exceed the proportion of youth of color in the general population.

Disproportionate minority representation becomes increasingly worse as youth of color proceed through the system, as decisions that occur early in the process (i. e. , arrest and referral) will increase overrepresentation Research has indicated that the involvement of youth in crime is related to various personal, family and community risk factors and that when these factors are taken into account there are no differences in the amount of crime committed by minority and White youth.

However, greater proportions of minority youth than White youth are at risk in socially segregated neighborhoods that can be characterized as areas of concentrated disadvantage. Research findings regarding the processing of youth by the juvenile justice system in different jurisdictions has been mixed. Inequities occur in some jurisdictions but not in others and occur at some decision points but no other decision points. The Issue A strong and consistent body of research shows significant disparities for minorities (especially African Americans) at most stages of the American juvenile justice system. Research findings on racial disparities vary from place to place and over time, reflecting jurisdictional differences in a fragmented juvenile justice system, and/or differences in study designs. Researchers also caution that disparity or overrepresentation may be evidence for discrimination, but they do not necessarily prove discrimination.

Although Snyder and Sickmund report declines in racial isparity in the juvenile justice system since 1992 in two key areas (arrest and transfer/waiver to adult criminal court), the evidence is strong that black youth are still overrepresented at all stages of case processing, with especially significant levels of disparity at arrest and detention. Moreover, disparities accumulate through the process: In 2002, black youth, who were 16 percent of the U. S. population and 28 percent of youth arrests, accounted for 33 percent of juvenile court cases resulting in out-of-home placement.

In a “snap-shot view” of custody levels on October 22, 2003, nation-wide, the custody rates for black youth was highest at 754 (per 100,000 juveniles in the U. S. ); compared with rates of 190 for white, 348 for Hispanic, 496 for American Indian, and 113 for Asian youth (92:213). There are more young black men in the criminal justice system (609,690) than the number of males all ages in college. Almost one in every four which is 23 percent in this generation of 2029 that are either in prison, jail, on probation, or parole.

There is consensus among researchers that the most widespread forms of racial discrimination in the American justice system occur in the treatment of juvenile offenders. Research on juvenile court sentencing consistently shows that “after controlling for the present offense and prior record, individualized sentencing discretion [in juvenile case processing] is often synonymous with racial discrimination”). From their review of 46 studies of juvenile justice processing and minority status, researchers found that two-thirds showed evidence of discrimination against minority youth, either directly (e. g. differences in case processing decisions such as detention, after controlling for other relevant case characteristics), or indirectly (operating through some other case characteristics, such as “family situation”), or as a mixed pattern (race differences being significant at some stages, or for specific subgroups of offenders or offenses).

These effects are cumulative, with relatively small differences in outcomes at early stages of the process becoming “more pronounced as minority youths precede further into the juvenile justice system”. Some researchers have suggested that the greater informality and flexibility ermitted in the juvenile justice system creates the potential for abuse of discretion. Research studies indicate that racial disparity is most evident at arrest, the first point of contact between youth and the justice system: In 2002, for youths ages 10 to 17, the arrest rate for blacks was almost double that of white rates. While there is little research evidence of overt bias by police, law enforcement policies and practices have the effect of racial and ethnic discrimination. For example, police are prone to more assertive surveillance of low-income communities, stereotyping them as “bad neighborhoods. Minority youth who appear hostile are more likely to be stopped, interrogated, arrested, charged with more serious offense, referred to court, and detained. However, criminologists emphasize that juvenile arrests remain poorly understood because relatively little research has been done on police actions and decisions that lead up to and include arrests . Minority youth are also disadvantaged at other stages of the criminal justice process. At court intake, where nearly half of all juvenile arrests are closed or diverted, minority youth are less likely to be diverted (referred from formal processing) or released outright.

Bishop and Frazier examined procedures in processing African American and white youths in Florida from intake to disposition, and concluded that, “while the magnitude of the race effect varies from stage to stage, there is a consistent pattern of unequal treatment. Non-white youths referred for delinquent acts, are more likely than comparable white youths to be recommended for petition to court, to be held for pre-adjudicatory detention, to be formally processed in juvenile court, and to receive the most formal or the most restrictive judicial dispositions”.

Although, the more informal nature of the juvenile justice system was designed to provide responses that fit the “best interest” of each child, there is evidence that such informality does not always result in the most appropriate responses for minority youth. Subjective interpretations of reports and differing perceptions of whites and minorities by probation officers have been shown to have a negative impact on black youth. Bridges and Steen examined 233 narrative reports written by uvenile probation officers in three counties in Washington State during 1990 and 1991, and concluded that those officials perceived black and white youths and their crimes quite differently. Probation officers more frequently attributed delinquency of blacks to “negative attitudinal and personality traits,” while focusing on the “influence of the social environment” for white youths.

Bridges and Steen note that such attributions shape assessments of youths’ culpability and future criminality, as well as sentence recommendations. The Facts on African American Youth and Delinquency: African American youth comprise 15. 4% of the national youth population. • The arrest rate among African American youth (ages 10-17) was nearly twice the rate of their white peers • African American youth are 1. 4 times more likely to be detained than their white Peers; among all racial groups, whites are the least likely to be detained. • Nationwide, one of every three young black males is in prison, on probation or on parole. • Nationwide, young black offenders are more than twice as likely to be transferred to adult court than their white counterparts. White youth are twice as likely to be defended by private attorneys as African American youth, and young offenders who are represented by private attorneys are less likely to be convicted and less likely to be transferred to adult court. • Nearly 60% of young offenders serving time in adult state prisons are African American, although African Americans comprise only 15% of the youth population. • Although minorities make up one-third of the total U. S. youth population, they make up nearly two-thirds of the young offenders behind bars. Recommendations

Below is a list of ideal solutions to help/fix the failing system and to uplift our youth as a whole. • Outreach programs o Like all problems in life reach the core of the problem before it spreads like a wild flower. By developing outreach programs within these communities it allows the youth the opportunity to understand the results of a life of crime. • Education o ?By educating law enforcement on the diversity and stereotype. Often times not ?only African Americans but youth as a whole are put into a certain class as many would call “a lost generation”. • Social Service Community social service programs target areas of the state having significant populations of juveniles living in areas with high poverty rates or from families receiving government assistance. Conclusion ?A large body of research has been produced on race effects at all stages of the criminal justice system, but the empirical evidence suggests complex interactions rather than simplistic processes. Some studies find direct or overt race discrimination in the criminal justice system, while other studies find race effects in specific situations, contexts, or jurisdictions—or find no race effects at all.

Without a doubt, great racial disparities and overrepresentation of minorities exist at all decision points in criminal justice processing, and have significant social consequences, but they may not all reflect race biases. The direct influence of race is statistically insignificant for the most serious offenses when legally relevant variables (such as severity of the offense, or prior criminal record) are included in analyses; in these cases, the race differences in sentencing are explained by race differences in offending.

Social and behavioral science research, however, has moved beyond an examination of the direct effects of race on criminal justice processing into more methodologically sophisticated and nuanced studies, which show that indirect and cumulative racial effects continue to produce significant race differentials. Race may also interact with other variables (such as socioeconomic or family status) to affect outcomes in criminal justice processing. Much more research is needs to be done and our race to save our youth. The problem of crime is a complex one and it will never be resolved overnight.

There are immediate actions that can be taken to prevent the next generation of black males from suffering from such a horrible issue and being a part of the correctional population. With the right decisions and actions made the system will not have the control over the next minority generation. All children deserve to be treated fairly, regardless of race or ethnicity. If the initial primary focus of the juvenile court and system was on rehabilitation then why did it change to a race factor? According to the United States Constitution “All men are created equal. However, in the case of the Justice system it is hardly ever considered to be equal. As I stated before disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system has been a national policy issue since 1992 when Congress amended the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974. This has to end all of our youth deserved a chance color shouldn’t matter when it comes to either rehabilitating or punishment towards a youth again everyone deserves to be treated fairly no matter the crime.


Austin, J. , Johnson, K. , & Gregoriou, M. (2000). Juveniles in adult prisons and jails: A national assessment. Retrieved March 7, 2005, from, http://www. ncjrs. org/txtfiles1/ bja/182503. txt. Bishop, Donna M. 2005. “The Role of Race and Ethnicity in Juvenile Justice Processing. ” Pp. 23–82 in Our Children, Their Children: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Differences in American Juvenile Justice, edited by D. F. Hawkins and K. Kempf-Leonard. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press Blumstein, Alfred. 1982. “On the Racial Disproportionality of United States Prison Populations. ” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

Building Blocks for Youth, Youth Crime/Adult Time: Is Justice Served, Washington, DC, October 26, 2000. Campbell, B. N. (2000). Challenges facing American Indian youth: On the front lines with Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Retrieved February 4, 2004 from, http://www. ncjrs. org/html/ojjdp/jjnl_2000_12/chall. html. ? http://juvjustice. org/media/factsheets/factsheet_1. pdf Race, Ethnicity & Health of Americanshttp://www. asanet. org/galleries/default-file/race_ethnicity_health. pdf Sampson, Robert J. 2006. “Open Doors Don’t Invite Criminals. ” New York Times, March 11, 2006.

Retrieved March 11, 2006 (http://www. nyt. com). Pope, Carl E. and Howard N. Snyder. 2003. Race as a Factor in Juvenile Arrests. OJJDP Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mincy, Ronald B. , ed. 2006. Black Males Left Behind. Washington, DC: Urban Institute Press. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 2006 National Report, Washington, DC, 2006 U. S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office: Nation’s Population One-Third Minority, Washington, DC, May 10, 2006 Page | 2


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