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Blind Justice? The Impact of Race on the Juvenile Justice Process

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 33 Issue: 2 Dated: (April 1987) Pages: 224-258
J Fagan; E Slaughter; E Hartstone
Date Published
35 pages
The increasing prevalence of minority youth in the juvenile justice system has renewed concerns over racial disparities in juvenile justice processing. Previous research has yielded ambiguous results, with findings complicated by methodological shortcomings, divergent research strategies, and design artifacts.
To resolve questions on the extent and source of racial disparities in juvenile justice processing, research is needed on the nature, location, and magnitude of discrimination in the juvenile justice system. This study examines racial disparities in decisionmaking at six points in the juvenile justice process, from apprehension through judicial commitment decisions. Samples of Anglo and minority youth were drawn at each point, controlling for offense severity, other offense characteristics, and extralegal factors in addition to race. The results show racial disparities at each point, with minorities consistently receiving harsher dispositions. Disparities took different forms at various stages of the process, usually for nonserious offenses. Race was a direct, indirect, and interactive influence at various decision points. Disparities were observed at other times only when controlling for other extralegal factors such as family status. The results suggest that the juvenile justice system reflects social and economic disparities endemic in other social domains. The correlates of delinquency in minority and predominantly Anglo populations are similar. Accordingly, base rate differences may be less important than societal reaction in explaining the overrepresentation of minorities in the juvenile justice process. The narrowing of social gaps may also reduce disparate perceptions of minorities in the juvenile justice system and restore their population balance in delinquent populations. (Author abstract)


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