The Case for Racial Diversification in Juvenile Justice Administration: An Empirical Study of Race and Professional Orientations

Geoffrey K. Ward, Vera Institute of Justice

Despite considerable research and policy attention over the past twenty-five years, racial disparity in juvenile justice remains a pressing social problem. This suggests a need for new perspective on the nature of racial inequality in juvenile justice, and greater scrutiny of current policy responses. This article focuses on the later challenge, testing the assertion that diversifying the ranks of juvenile justice practitioners can reduce levels of racial disparity in juvenile justice administration. Diversification has been proposed as a viable remedy for disproportionate minority confinement, yet virtually no theoretical or empirical work on the relationship between race and professional orientation has been developed to support and/or challenge this approach. Data from a recent survey of juvenile court judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and probation officers in four states (N= 665) are used to test OLS and Logistical regression models estimating relationships between racial background and orientations toward juvenile justice decision making, focusing specifically on attitudes toward the problem of disproportionate minority confinement (DMC) and the general concept of "accountability". Findings suggest that black professionals are far more concerned about issues of system fairness in general, and racial justice in particular, than are their white counterparts, and that professional diversification may therefore be a useful strategy in addressing racial disparity in juvenile justice. However, additional research is required to clarify the relationship between race and professional orientation, and to determine the extent to which variation in orientation is related to actual outcomes in case processing. It is further recommended that DMC research and policy initiatives more aggressively engage minorities as agents/providers of justice administration, to counter a long research and policy tradition of viewing narrowly minorities as "problem populations" and passive subjects/victims of punishment and social control.

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Updated 05/20/2006