Race/Ethnicity and the Juvenile Justice System: An Analysis of Research

Donna M. Bishop, Northeastern University

This paper seeks to synthesize the best and most recent research bearing on the issue of disproportionate minority representation in the juvenile justice system. Evidence of race disparity is presented with respect to arrest, formal processing, secure detention, adjudication, confinement, correctional placement, and transfer to criminal court. This is followed by a review of theory and research bearing on explanations for these results: race differentials in patterns of offending, overt or intentional discrimination by justice sytstem decision-makers, institutionalized discrimination flowing from "racially neutral" justice system policies, organizational sources of variation in policies that impact disproportionately on minorities, social structural sources of variation in organizational response, and disparities that emanate from the political climate and the process of law-making itself. Challenges for theory and policy are discussed in view of the multiplicity of contributing factors identified in the review.

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Updated 05/20/2006