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Minorities in the Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 1999
16 pages
Publication Series
This bulletin presents national statistics on the racial and ethnic composition of juvenile offenders at the stages of arrest, court processing, and confinement.
The first wave of the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth interviewed a nationally representative sample of 9,000 youths who were between the ages of 12 and 16 at year-end 1996. The survey asked them to report whether they had engaged in a variety of deviant and delinquent behaviors. Eight percent of them reported that they had even been arrested. The proportion of youth ever arrested varied significantly by race and ethnicity for males but not for females. Caseloads of black juveniles contained a greater proportion of person offenses than did caseloads of white juveniles and those of other races. Regardless of race, the proportion of cases that involved person offenses was greater in 1996 than in 1987. Secure detention was nearly twice as likely in 1996 for cases involving black youth as for cases that involved whites, even after controlling for offense. Detention was least likely for cases that involved white youth charged with property crimes. Detention was most likely for cases that involved black youth charged with drug offenses. For blacks, growth in detained cases outpaced growth in delinquency cases overall. In 1997, two-thirds of all juveniles in custody in public facilities were minorities, as were just over half of all juveniles in private facilities. The racial/ethnic profile of juveniles held in 1997 is similar to the profile of those held in 1995. Half of females in residential placement were minorities on October 29, 1997. Females accounted for a slightly greater proportion of white than minority youth in custody. Overall, there is substantial evidence of widespread racial/ethnic disparity in juvenile case processing, and racial/ethnic differences occur at various decision points within the juvenile justice system. Some questions raised by these findings are posed. 11 figures

Date Published: December 1, 1999