Racial Disparity: Is It Due to "Justice by Geography?"

Timothy M. Bray, Illinois State Police
Lisa L. Sample, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Kimberly Kempf-Leonard, University of Texas at Dallas

Despite consensus that the over-representation of racial minorities within juvenile facilities is a problem, there has been no effective response because of ongoing debate over whether race-specific patterns of offending or differential treatment deserve greater "blame" for the problem. It is time to stop exchanging blame and instead focus our attention on the complex relationships at the individual-, contextual-, and structural-level that are most apt to help improve our understanding of racial disparity. In this paper, we follow recent suggestions that the way to make advances in this area is to use multi-level data and techniques of spatial analyses. We analyze data from all juvenile court case files that were processed in one state during a recent six-year period. We incorporate contextual measures of the courts and local communities and multi-level analyses to examine what previously has been primarily ad hoc speculation of "justice by geography" and its relationship with race. We look at the rural/urban schism that Feld and others have suggested as important, the nature and distribution of typical cases (Emerson, 1983); we also test the multidimensional aspects of segreation offered by Massey and Denton (1988; 200).

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Updated 05/20/2006