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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

FIGURE 6-2 Child risk

FIGURE 6-2 Child risk indicators by race. Notes: Early prenatal care = 1990 percentage of women in the United States receiving prenatal care in the first trimester; Low birthweight = 1990 percentage of all low-birthweight infants born in the United States by mother's race; Lead exposure = 1988-1991 percentage of children 1-5 years old in the United States with blood lead levels greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter (*data unavailable for Hispanic population); Living below the poverty level = 1989 percentage of children in the United States under age 18 living below the poverty level; Living in a poor neighborhood = 1990 percentage of children in the United States living in neighborhoods where 20 percent or more of the persons live in families below the poverty level; Living in very poor neighborhoods = 1990 percentage of children in the United States living in neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of the persons live in families below the poverty level; Parental full employment = 1989 percentage of children in the United States with at least one fully employed (full time, full year) resident parent. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1998). Black and Hispanic children remain at greater risk than white children in many ways. Data from 1960 to 1996 on the percentage of children living below the poverty level show very little change in the proportion of white, Hispanic, and black children living in poverty conditions. In 1960, 20 percent of white children lived below the poverty level, 4 percent more than in 1996, with only slight variations in the intervening years (low of 11 percent in 1970 and a high of 17 percent in 1992 and 1993). The proportion of black children living below the poverty level, although much higher than the proportion of white children, was similarly stable. In 1970, 42 percent of black children lived below the poverty level; in 1996 the percentage was 40 percent. Over the 26-year period for which data are available for blacks, the percentage of children living below the poverty level never dropped below 40 percent, varying 2 to 6 percentage points up or down during these years. Poverty figures showed greater variation among Hispanic children. Between 1980 and 1996, the percentage of Hispanic children living below the poverty level has ranged from 33 percent in 1980 to 41 percent in 1994. These figures reinforce the argument that minority and majority families live and grow up in different social contexts and experience different levels of risk. There is increasing evidence that community-level factors are important in understanding the etiology of juvenile offending and violence. Community-based crime statistics reveal high correlations with joblessness, household disruption, housing Page 56 of 114

density, infant deaths, and poverty (Sampson, 1987,1992). Where a family lives affects the nature of opportunities available for its children and adults. In some communities, public transportation permits easy travel for those who do not own automobiles, allowing residents to take advantage of opportunities for employment and entertainment outside the neighborhood. In communities that lack these opportunities and resources, street corner gatherings offer possibilities for illegal activities. Neighborhoods can also influence children's behavior by providing examples of socially acceptable behaviors and actions. For example, gang activities vary by community (Curry and Spergel, 1988; Horowitz, 1987). There is no other racial or ethnic group in the United States of comparable size whose members are nearly as likely to grow up in neighborhoods of concentrated urban poverty as are blacks (Sampson, 1987; Wilson, 1987). While there are more poor white than black families in absolute number, poor white families are less likely to live in areas where most of their neighbors are also poor (Chin, 1996; Moore, 1978, 1991; Padilla, 1992; Pinderhughes, 1997; Sullivan, 1989; Vigil, 1988; Vigil and Yun, 1990). In an examination of long-term trends in the segregation of blacks and recent trends in the segregation of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, Massey has suggested that blacks are unique among groups in showing very high levels of segregation and isolation (Massey, 2000:1): As of 1990, the degree of segregation was so severe, and occurred on so many dimensions simultaneously, that it was called “hypersegregation. ” This pattern of extreme segregation is unique to African Americans and is unrelated to their economic status and unexplained by their housing preferences. . . . High levels of African American segregation have interacted with recent shifts in the income distribution and class segregation to produce unusually high concentrations of poverty among African Americans. The spatial isolation of poor African Americans has, in turn, elevated the risks of educational failure, joblessness, unwed parenthood, crime, and mortality. Effects of deleterious neighborhoods have been studied in relation to both immigrants and blacks (e.g., Shaw and McKay, 1969). Recent research has focused on ethnographic studies of youthful gang members and drug dealers (Bourgois, 1995), although the link between drug use and minority status has a long history in the United States (e.g., Helmer, 1975). Spatial isolation has been a consequence, in part, of social policies. Taxes promoted an exodus of jobs from the cities, where impoverished blacks lived in public housing that was restricted by ordinances to locations removed from job opportunities. Racial discrimination in housing, enforced by restrictive covenants and threats of violence, set a pattern that left blacks more clearly segregated than other minorities (Jackson, 1985; McCord, 1997c; Robinson, 1993; Sampson and Lauritsen, 1997; Wade, 1972). The resulting disparities may explain at least part of the differential exposure to risks by Page 57 of 114

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