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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

of their sentences

of their sentences (Carroll and Mondrick, 1976). Time served also would contribute to racial disproportionality. Blacks are not the only minority at risk for unequal treatment by the justice system. Alvarez and Bachman (1996) examined racial disparity comparing American Indians to whites in Arizona. After accounting for previous felony convictions and several other factors, American Indians were found to receive longer sentences than whites for the relatively common crimes of robbery and burglary and relatively shorter sentences for the less common crime of homicide (Alvarez and Bachman, 1996). Commenting on the study, Stone (1999) suggested that both types of discrepancies may indicate bias. The longer sentences could be evidence of harsher treatment of American Indian offenders for crimes against strangers, but lesser punishments for homicides, which largely involve acquaintances. Stone further suggested that there may be both under- and overenforcement in some communities and that these two kinds of bias may cancel each other out in studies that do not take interactions into account. Despite the lack of an extensive literature on this topic, the review by Bridges and colleagues (1987) suggests that the bias in the juvenile justice system may be subtle, indirect, and difficult to detect. This makes it difficult, in turn, for policy makers to justify changes in policies to remedy the disparate treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system. Liska and Tausig (1979) reexamined 17 juvenile justice studies that considered the relationship between social class, race, and legal decision making. They found race differences that produced a cumulative effect that changed a racially heterogeneous prearrest population into a nonwhite, homogeneous institutionalized population. Initial race differences were compounded at successive stages of the juvenile justice system. Accumulated racial differences were also found by Feyerherm (1981) in his examination of status offenders. Risk is a limiting concept to the extent that it fails to make explicit the degree to which enduring features of racial stratification and discrimination interact with and compound problems related to individual decision making, family dysfunction, school failure, community context, crime, and contact with the juvenile justice system. Hawkins et al. (1998) highlighted the important connections between race and risk when they wrote: “the social and developmental life courses of African Americans and whites in the United States are products of not only their specific individual experiences but also their membership in historically distinct and unequal social and economic groupings” (p. 40). To reduce racial disparities, many jurisdications have undertaken the imposition of sentencing guidelines. In a study to determine effects of using sentencing guidelines, Ulmer and Kramer (1996) studied three counties in Pennsylvania. They discovered that race, sex, and age continued to have an impact on sentencing differences, even though legal factors, such as severity of crime or number of prior offenses, accounted for much of the impact. Page 66 of 114

COMPOUND RISK So far this chapter has examined the racial disparity evident in the juvenile justice system as a function of differences in behavior on the part of the black and white youth and biases in the juvenile justice system. The evidence adduced has not, of course, provided a complete account of why or how the disparities occur. Yet our review has shown that both behavior and biases contribute to the racial disparities. Compound effects, even of small disparities, can produce large differences. The degree to which such effects can magnify disparities has been calculated using information from the UCR (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997), Snyder and Finnegan's Easy Access to FBI Arrest Statistics 1994-1997 (1999), and Stahl et al.'s Juvenile Court Statistics, 1996 (1999). Figure 6-3 shows the numbers in each category and the probabilities that a juvenile will reach a point in the juvenile justice process separately for black and white juveniles.5 The probabilities that appear on the outside of Figure 6-3 are the proportion of the population under age 18 that reach each stage of the process, shown separately for blacks and whites. (These are referred to as compound probabilities because they are also the product of transitional probabilities.) For example, the probability of a white juvenile being handled formally by the courts is: and the probability of a black juvenile being handled formally by the courts is: The probabilities that appear on the inside of Figure 6-3 are the transitional probabilities, computed as the proportion of people at one stage who show up at the next one. Transitional probabilities for juveniles being handled formally, for example, are calculated as the proportion of delinquency cases who were handled formally in the courts, calculated separately for whites and blacks. For whites, the transitional probability of being handled formally is: For blacks, it is: Table 6-5 compares the transitional and compound probabilities of blacks to whites. The first column shows relative risk, which takes into account the proportions of blacks to Page 67 of 114

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