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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

Huizinga and Elliott (1987) compared self-reported criminal behavior with official charges. They found that a slightly larger proportion of blacks reported involvement in general delinquency and that blacks and Hispanics reported more felony assaults than did whites. There were no consistent differences in rates of felony thefts. Among both nonserious and serious offenders, blacks were much more likely than whites to be arrested on a charge for an index offense. The racial differences could not be attributed to either the seriousness of the offense or to the frequency of offending. Despite the fact that police tend to concentrate patrols in poor neighborhoods, they also appear to respond more slowly to client calls from inner-city residents than in more affluent neighborhoods (Bachman, 1996). In addition, inner-city black residents distrust the largely white police (Anderson, 1997; Russell, 1998) and believe the police are unlikely to be available when they are most needed (Pinderhughes, 1999). Many residents therefore believe that they must defend themselves. TABLE 6-3 Prediction of Juvenile Arrest in Police Encounters Odds of Arrest All Encounters with Juvenile Suspects (N = 612) Police Initiated Cases Only (N = 319) Male (vs. female) 2.08* 2.63 2.33 3.85* 8.33* 7.69* Minority (vs. white) 1.43 1.27 1.19 3.27* 2.22 2.09 Crime serious (vs. 1.95* 1.93* 2.558* 2.59* not) Evidence (vs. none) 6.11* 5.82* 12.81* 12.19* Disrespect (vs. 2.17 1.46 none) * p

1), and placement (7 of 7). Adjudication reveals a different pattern, with only one of the studies showing disparity and three not showing disparity. In one of the largest studies of this topic undertaken so far, Frazier and Bishop (1995) analyzed data from all cases referred to juvenile justice intake units (N = 137,028) in Florida between January 1, 1985, and December 31, 1987. Frazier and Bishop looked at processing at four points— intake (case closure versus formal processing), detention (detention versus release), court referral (prosecutor files petition versus no petition filed), and judicial disposition (community treatment versus residential facilities or transferred to criminal court). In simple bivariate analyses, Frazier and Bishop found that nonwhites were more likely than whites to be (1) referred by intake for formal processing, (2) held in secure detention facilities, and (3) petitioned to court by prosecutors. However, in trying to interpret findings regarding racial disproportionality, it is commonly recognized that analyses need to control for certain factors that influence the decision-making process. For example, the seriousness of a crime obviously affects the decision-making process. Similarly, a youth's prior record would be something that judges and others involved in the decision-making process might take into account. Other factors about the life circumstances of the juvenile, such as living with a single parent or school failure, may also influence the decision about how to handle a juvenile. Thus, analyses need to control for some of these factors to better reveal the importance of race or ethnicity in the disproportionality. As indicated in Table 6-4, only a few studies include controls for important covariates. Using this more rigorous test of the disproportionality hypothesis involving multivariate analyses, Frazier and Bishop (1995) found that being nonwhite significantly increased the likelihood of an intake decision of formal processing, despite controls for gender, age, prior record, offense severity, and contempt status. Being nonwhite did not seem to affect decisions at other points in the process. Waiver to Adult Courts In an analysis of transfer decisions in Boston, Detroit, Newark, and Phoenix, Fagan et al. (1987a) found that blacks were 75 percent more likely to be waived to criminal court than whites (1.4 versus 0.8 percent of cases, respectively). Juveniles who were older at the time of the offense, juveniles with an earlier age of delinquency onset, and juveniles charged with murder were most often transferred. Although Fagan et al. (1987a) found that minority juveniles were transferred more often, race was not a statistically independent influence on the decision to transfer. However, these authors suggested that race may indirectly affect transfer decisions through factors such as dress, demeanor, quality of defense representation, verbal abilities of the minor, and status in the community. Podkopacz and Feld (1995, 1996) closely scrutinized court processing variables and reported no race effects in waiver decisions after appropriate controls were added. In contrast, the General Accounting Office (1995) reported substantial racial effects when Page 63 of 114

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