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African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

African-American Youth in The Juvenile Justice System

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whites. The relative risk for a black juvenile being handled formally, in relation to that for a white juvenile is the ratio of the transitional probabilities: TABLE 6-5 Compounding of Racial Disparity in the Juvenile Justice System Risk of: Relative Black to White Relative Compound Black to Risk White Risk Being arrested 2.00:1.00 2.00:1:00 Referred to court for delinquency 1.19:1.00 2.38:1:00 case Case being handled formally 1.15:1.00 2.82:1:00 Being adjudicated delinquent or 0.93:1.00 2.51:1:00 found guilty Being put in residential placement 1.23:1.00 3.12:1:00 Source: Arrest data from Federal Bureau of Investigation (1997) andSnyder and Finnegan (1999); court and placement data from Stahl etal. (1999). The second column of Table 6-5 shows relative compound risk, which is the ratio of the compound probabilities. The relative compound risk for a black juvenile being handled formally in relation to a white is: As this example shows, the relative risk for being handled formally in the courts by blacks is 1.15 to 1; it rises to 2.82 to 1 when compounding is taken into account. Black juveniles are at greater risk than white juveniles of being arrested, charged for delinquency, and handled formally. They are not at greater risk, given formal handling, for being adjudicated delinquent or found guilty. Thus, at almost every stage in the juvenile justice process the racial disparity is clear, but not extreme. However, because the system operates cumulatively the risk is compounded and the end result is that black juveniles are three times as likely as white juveniles to end up in residential placement (see Table 6-5). Even among those juveniles who are arrested, blacks are more than one and a half times as likely as whites to end up in residential placement. Some of this overrepresentation of blacks in correctional institutions and justice system residential placements may be accounted for by differences in treatment of blacks and whites at various stages of juvenile justice system processing. Other forms of differential treatment, too, may contribute to the overrepresentation of blacks in secure juvenile justice facilities. For example, some juveniles who steal or commit assault are sent to mental hospitals for treatment of their behavior; others who exhibit similar behaviors are confined in the juvenile justice system. Page 68 of 114

A comparison of two samples of adolescents, one sent to a correctional facility and the other admitted to a state psychiatric hospital, in one urban area during a one-year time period found that the most powerful distinguishing factor between the two groups was race: 71 percent of the hospitalized youth were white, whereas 67 percent of the incarcerated adolescents were black. The authors noted that “clinical and epidemiological findings indicate clearly that many seriously psychiatrically disturbed, aggressive African American adolescents are being channeled to correctional facilities while their equally aggressive white counterparts are directed toward psychiatric treatment facilities” (Lewis et al., 1980:1216). Three additional considerations should be noted in accounting for the overrepresentation of blacks in the criminal justice system. Hawkins (1998) has suggested that one of the reasons for the disproportionate presence of blacks in the nation's justice system may be the geographic and social marginalization of the white underclass. The vast majority of poor blacks live in cities. Poor whites are more likely to be distributed in rural areas and small towns, which may shield them from some forms of crime detection and social control found in large cities. The second consideration is that laws governing drug offenses result in a much greater likelihood of incarceration for blacks (Hawkins, 1998). Not only are there longer mandatory sentences for the less expensive form of cocaine that is more likely to be used by blacks, but also the distribution system for inner-city purchases is under far greater surveillance than is the suburban distribution system. Snyder et al. (1996:142) reported that during 1992, of all black juveniles in the United States who were processed through the justice system for varying offenses, 25 percent were detained. This compares with 18 percent of white cases and 22 percent of cases involving juveniles of other races. In contrast, the rates of confinement for juveniles charged with drug offenses were 47 percent for blacks, 26 percent for whites, and 19 percent for others. At the same time, surveys of the public have shown white adults to be major users of drugs, including cocaine, and have found unexpectedly low rates of drug use among black adolescents (Bachman et al., 1991; Lockwood et al., 1995; National Institute of Drug Abuse, 1991; Rebach, 1992). Other potential consequences associated with discriminatory treatment may affect the development of youth from different racial and ethnic minority backgrounds. The effect of these experiences on the individual may be to create barriers to obtaining such resources as jobs, housing, and health care. Furthermore, when a person is exposed to persistent discriminatory experiences, the consequences may involve perceptions of the unfairness of the system (Bobo, 2001, Crocker and Major, 1989), reactive coping strategies (Spencer, 1999), hostile attributions (Graham, 1997), and psychological disengagement (Crocker et al., 1998). Page 69 of 114

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