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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

comparable across

comparable across states, and analyses that aggregate across jurisdictions may mask important information. The data used in the analysis by Hamparian and colleagues vary for the time period in which they were collected. Information from some of the states is incomplete. Problems with assigning race or ethnicity are reflected in these statistics as well. This brief review, along with evidence cited in other chapters of this volume, strongly suggests that there is racial disparity at various points in the juvenile justice system and in various jurisdictions across the nation. The focus of the rest of this chapter is not to further document disparity, since the evidence appears fairly clear, despite the limitations of existing data. Some of the nation's minority juveniles, most notably blacks, experience higher rates of arrest and further justice system involvement than do whites. The remainder of this chapter examines the research findings that may prove helpful for efforts to better interpret and understand these disparities and identify areas in which research or action is most urgently needed. Earlier in the chapter, contrasting explanations of disproportionality were raised. The first—attributing the disparity to the behavior of the youth—suggests that the disparity is an accurate or reasonable reflection of the extent of involvement in delinquent and criminal behavior by these youth. The second perspective—attributing the disparity to the justice system—emphasizes the persistent effect of bias among decision makers in the juvenile justice system. We first consider the evidence for race differences in delinquent behavior and then consider evidence of bias in the juvenile justice system. Behavior-Based Explanations To explore the possibility that the racial disparity observed in rates of justice system involvement arises as a result of racial differences in criminal conduct, the possibility of error in crime data must first be entertained. Errors could lead to the appearance of racial disparity that, on closer examination, can be shown not to exist. Then, to the extent that racial disparity can be shown to exist, its causes must be explored. In the field of juvenile and criminal justice research, there are several measures that have been used to determine the extent of criminal behavior. In Chapter 2, the issues of measuring delinquency and crime were discussed and it was pointed out that none of the measures is without problems. There is fairly good agreement that the best approach to measuring crime is to use multiple sources of information (Farrington, 1998; Loeber et al., 1998b; National Research Council, 1993). The use of multiple sources of information may be especially rewarding for efforts to understand the sources and causes of racial and ethnic disparity. The three most common approaches to measuring delinquency and crime —self-report surveys, victimization surveys, and official arrest and conviction statistics—all indicate high rates of serious offending among young blacks. While studies using differing methods and sources of data are not in agreement on the magnitude of differences in rates of involvement in youth crime across racial, ethnic, and social class categories, most research does show important differences, particularly with regard to race. Page 52 of 114

Figure 6-1 reveals the substantial overrepresentation of minority youth in official arrest data, showing major discrepancies between black and white youth. These differences are on the order of magnitude of 1.8:1. The racial disparity in offending behavior is lower when the measure used as an index of offending is based on self-reports. For example, using data from the National Youth Survey, Elliott (1994b) found that, at age 17, 36 percent of black males, 25 percent of white males, 18 percent of black females, and 10 percent of white females reported committing a serious violent offense (robbery, rape, or aggravated assault involving injury or a weapon) in the previous year. Thus, selfreport data from this large nationally representative sample reveals differences in criminal behavior between black and white juveniles. It should be noted, however, that the discrepancies were not nearly as large as the differential revealed by official arrest data (1.5:1 for self-report compared to 4:1 for arrest —Elliott, 1999). Greenfeld (1999) presented results to the panel from an analysis of data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the third source of criminal behavior information, for the years 1993 to 1997 (annual average) for robbery and aggravated assault for juvenile offenders. The NCVS, conducted annually by the Bureau of Justice Statistics since 1973, asks victims about their victimization experiences and about characteristics of the offender(s) who victimized them, including race. Information from the NCVS is helpful for crimes involving a personal confrontation like robbery, assault, or rape, but it is not very useful for property crimes for which there was no direct confrontation. Juvenile offenders are defined as those whom victims indicated they believed to have been less than 18 years old. Table 6-2 shows the race distribution of juvenile offenses for robbery and aggravated assault as reported by victims (NCVS) and in arrests from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Several points are worth noting. First, in both sources of information, black juveniles are overrepresented for these two crime types, compared with their proportion in the general population. Second, in both data sources, a higher proportion of white youth are reported for aggravated TABLE 6-2 Race Distribution of Juvenile Offenses for Robbery and Aggravated Assault as Reported by Victims (NCVS) and in Arrests (UCR), Annual Average 1993-1997 Total Robbery Aggravated Assault As reported by victims (NCVS) a Annual average number 949,992 362,498 587,494 % white 42 27 51 % black 41 58 31 % other 14 12 15 Juvenile arrestees (UCR) Annual average number 129,997 49,858 80,139 % white 50 38 57 % black 48 60 41 % other 2 2 2 Note: NCVS = National Crime Victimization Survey. UCR = Uniform Crime Reports a Juvenile offenders are those for whom victims indicated that they believed the offender to have been less than 18 years old. Page 53 of 114

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