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Effects of Race in Juvenile Justice: Investigating Early Stage Processes

NCJ Number
Journal for Juvenile Justice and Detention Services Volume: 16 Issue: 2 Dated: Fall 2001 Pages: 77-91
James H. Williams Ph.D.; Charles D. Ayers M.S.W; Wade S. Outlaw M.S.W; Robert D. Abbott Ph.D.; David Hawkins Ph.D.
Date Published
15 pages
Using self-reports of juvenile justice system involvement, delinquent behavior, drug trafficking, and violent acts, multiple regression techniques tested the direct and interaction effects of race as a predictor of system involvement for participants at mid-adolescence and again at late adolescence.
The study used data collected from the Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP), a theory-driven study of the etiology of antisocial behaviors. SSDP began in 18 Seattle elementary schools that were identified as having an overrepresentation of students from high crime neighborhoods. The study population consisted of 808 students and their parents. Of the study sample, 46 percent were Caucasian (n=372), 25 percent were African-American (n=195), 21 percent were Asian-American (n=170), 5.6 percent were American-Indian (n=45), and 3.2 percent were classified as belonging in another ethnic group (n=26). Juvenile justice system involvement was indicated by the mean score for a four-item index that measured the frequency of subjects' involvement with juvenile justice. Other variables measured pertained to drug trafficking, delinquency, and violent acts. Hierarchical regression analysis was used by regressing the dependent variables (juvenile justice system involvement) on delinquent behavior, drug trafficking, and violent behaviors. To test for significant differences between the Caucasian and African-American race groups, prior criminal activity indexes were entered as a control measure. Separate regression models were conducted for each antisocial behavior. To test for race effects, each model included a dummy coded race variable and a race by behavior interaction term. Separate regression models were also conducted for subjects at both age periods to investigate differences in system response from mid to late adolescence. Results of the regression models indicate that race, drug trafficking, delinquency, and involvement in violent behavior contributed significantly to the prediction of juvenile justice system involvement at both age periods. Overall, 25 percent of the variability in juvenile justice system involvement at mid-adolescence (ages 15-16) was explained by race and prior and current drug trafficking activities. The analysis thus found detectable effects of race on juvenile justice processing that constitutes a disadvantage for African-American youths in the area under investigation. Study limitations are discussed. 6 tables and 40 references