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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

lack youth.

lack youth. The next section examines attempts to consider the influence of exposure to risk factors on rates of violence. Examining Risk Factors to Account for Racial Disparity There is scant research that examines the extent to which risk factors explain racial disparity. In one very recent investigation, Farrington and colleagues (in press) used data from the Pittsburgh Youth Study, a prospective longitudinal survey of the development of offending and antisocial behavior in three samples, totaling about 1,500 Pittsburgh boys (for description of Pittsburgh Youth Study, see Loeber et al., 1998a). This analysis is based on the middle sample of boys, who were about age 10 when they were first assessed and screened for inclusion in the study. The first follow-up was six months later, and during this assessment information concerning a large number of explanatory variables was collected. They were then followed up in court records for 5.8 years up to a median of age 16.4. Farrington et al. (in press) used combined reports of violence from mothers, boys, and teachers (rather than self-reports alone), defining violence as whether the boy had (a) attacked someone with the intention of seriously hurting or killing them (labeled aggravated assault), (b) used force to get money or possessions from someone (labeled robbery), or (c) hurt or forced someone to have sex (labeled forcible rape). They also collected information regarding petitions to the juvenile court for index violence up to 1994, when the boys were about 16 years of age. Strong predictors of a record of violence included poverty and one-parent families, young maternal age, physical punishment, a bad neighborhood, and poor school achievement. The strongest predictor of having a court record was black race. The risk indicators did not completely account for the racial disparity. “After controlling for important risk factors, the relationship between race and reported violence was reduced but not eliminated, showing that [the relationship] could not be completely explained by factors measured in the Pittsburgh Youth Study” (Farrington et al., in press). The risks explained most of the self-, mother-, and teacher-reported racial disparity in violence, but not the 21:1 ratio of court petitions. A compelling explanation for these differences remains elusive. Future research will need to consider several alternative explanations. For example, it is possible that the risk factors may be more serious or severe for black boys (bad neighborhoods may be worse, physical punishment may be more severe, or poverty may be more desperate) compared with white boys. The risk factors may have different meanings for different races. Risk factors may have longer duration for black boys, or these risk factors may have interactive (or multiplicative) effects. These results may be the effect of enduring chronic poverty and stigma experienced by these youth. Yet another possibility is that protective factors may be less common among black boys. Furthermore, there are many alternative ways in which the juvenile justice system probably influences the crime rate differences (e.g., where police concentrate their efforts). For example, in their models of black and white juvenile arrests for homicide, Messner and colleagues (2000) Page 58 of 114

found that rising and falling rates of juvenile homicide arrests corresponded with rates of child poverty. Living in urban areas increases the likelihood of formal juvenile justice system processing (Feld, 1999). Proportionately more black juveniles reside in urban areas and therefore are exposed to a greater likelihood of formal processing. Clearly, blacks have been exposed to a wider array of risk factors than have whites. We now consider possible bias in the juvenile justice system. BIAS IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM This section highlights a few points in the juvenile justice system about which there is an empirical literature addressing the issue of racial disparity or bias. We consider three major points in the juvenile justice system process—the police, the courts, and probation officers —and the evidence of bias at each. Policing Any examination of the processing of youth through the juvenile justice system needs to consider the role of the police—the primary gatekeepers of the system. Police have contact with a large volume of youth who are offenders and those who are at risk. Many of the contacts are not documented, and many of those documented never result in a court case. As noted earlier (see Chapter 5), cases that reach the juvenile courts represent only a fraction of the contacts that juveniles have with the police. Most of the interactions of police with juveniles are therefore below the surface and relatively out of sight. Police encounters with juveniles typically involve uniformed patrol officers who are dispatched in response to calls for police service and who also initiate encounters with youth on their own as they conduct patrol. There are also specialized juvenile officers whose encounters with juveniles may be in the context of referrals from parents, school officials, or patrol officers. As noted in Chapter 5, there is scant empirical evidence on police encounters with juveniles (Black and Reiss, 1970; Lundman et al., 1978; Wordes and Bynum, 1995). A study by Sealock and Simpson (1998), based on an analysis of Philadelphia birth cohort data in which police contacts with juveniles from 1968 through 1975 were recorded, is one of the few that deals with juveniles ' encounters with police. Nonetheless, one of the most researched issues in race and crime research is the role of extralegal factors in police decision making. Empirical findings confirm that police behavior is influenced by legal considerations, but officers' choices are not determined by legal factors, which leaves ample room for bias. This is particularly a concern when police decisions must be made based on few informational cues. Under such circumstances, readily observable characteristics, like race, sex, and juveniles' demeanor, have a substantial influence on the ways in which police officers behave. In Page 59 of 114

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