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Juvenile Offenders Race and Ethnicity 1

Juvenile Offenders: Race and Ethnicity

Jesse Mathewson
Juvenile Offenders Race and Ethnicity 2

Juvenile Offenders: Race and Ethnicity


Juvenile crime in the United States is epidemic; the sheer number of juvenile offenders

ensures a thriving corrections industry far into this century, unfortunately with those numbers

come the racial and ethnic disparities. Understanding why there are disparities is important when

attempting to understand the base causes for the large amount of juvenile crime in the United

States. Many advancements within the justice system help reduce the number of racially

motivated arrests; however, there has not been nearly the impetuous to reduce the root causes for

the crime levels and the disparities that exist. The following paper address’s the advancements,

disparities and takes a look at possible root causes as well as potential fixes.
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Juvenile Offenders: Race and Ethnicity

Statistics in Juvenile Justice:

Understanding the evidence currently available on a national level is important when

discussing the possible disparities with juvenile offender’s race and ethnicity. The most recently

publicly available statistics are 2007 for juvenile offenders. It is important to understand that in

many cases juvenile arrests are not reported to the Uniform Crime Report of the Federal Bureau

of Investigations because of various state and federal restrictions on juvenile information.

In 2007 law enforcement agencies in the United States made an estimated 2.18 million

arrests of persons under the age 18. (Puzzanchera, 2009) Of the approximately 14 million arrests

made for all crimes and ages in 2007 statistics show that juvenile arrests equaled approximately

15% of all arrests made. Juvenile arrests equaled over 18% of all adult arrests which means for

every 18 adults arrested one juvenile was also arrested. Obviously, these are arrest statistics and

do not properly reflect completed cases and incarcerations. According to Puzzanchera (2009) in

2007, although black youth accounted for just 17% of the youth population ages 10 through 17,

black juveniles were involved in 51% of juvenile Violent Crime Index arrests and 32% of

juvenile Property Crime Index arrests.

Accordingly, the crime types seem to be the real variables here and not the alleged

disparity of arrest numbers. In fact by looking at the basic numbers, it is obvious that there is no

real disparity in arrests on a general scale, as the current numbers per the 2000 census reflects

almost 18% of the population meaning that the 17% percent arrest rate is lower than the

population numbers in general. However, close to 60% of African Americans live in urban areas,

and because a large percentage of the crime occurs in urban areas due to the increased number of
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people it is a relative certainty that a greater number of African Americans may, in fact, be

arrested or incarcerated for specific crime types versus other racial or ethnic groupings.

An interesting point of fact however, is the decline in the past 15 years of violent crimes

committed among African American juveniles. From 1993 a sharp drop has been noted in violent

crimes among African American juveniles with a relatively stable but not declining level for

Caucasian juveniles. It should be noted that from 1986 until 2007 there was a general increase in

aggravated assault cases resulting in a disparity of data. However, as Puzzanchera (2009) stated

in his report, “The racial composition of the U.S. juvenile population ages 10–17 in 2007 was

78% white, 17% black, 5% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 1% American Indian.” Although this is

still an “over-representation,” regarding the correlation between certain crime types and African

American juveniles it should be noted that the other minority categories are not generally over-


Legislation regarding race and bias:

Various forms of legislation and legal precedent have been passed or decided in an

attempt to reduce the general disparity and the air of racial bias that pervades the American

Juvenile Justice system. One of the first of these legislative attempts was the Fourteenth

Amendment; adopted July 9, 1868 this amendment directly followed the civil war and countered

the earlier legal decision (Scott v. Sanford) regarding Black citizenship. The Fifteenth

Amendment; adopted in 1870 this amendment states, “The right of citizens of the United States

to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race,

color, or previous condition of servitude.” In the following years there were several Jim Crow

laws passed, the Democrat Party legislated many of these laws that created a “separate but equal”

status for Blacks and Whites, another name for this was segregation.
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The Civil Rights Case, 109 U.S. 3 (1883) stated, “That all persons within the jurisdiction

of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the

accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on

land or water, theatres, and other places of public amusement, subject only to the

conditions and limitations established by law and applicable alike to citizens of every

race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude."

During the beginning of the 20th century there were unfortunately more Jim Crow laws

passed on a local level in many states. The legal decision Brown versus Board of education

(1954) stated, “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of, "Separate but

equal" has no place.” With this decision many changes began and within 10 years legislation

(Civil Rights Act of 1964) was being passed that ensured the equality of all men in a positive

manner, with civil rights leaders like Martin L. King Jr. and organizations like National

Association for the Advancement of Colored People, (NAACP) these rights were ensured.

Sociologically however, the idea as it was taught for so many years of segregation has resulted in

a minor yet continuing trend of racism.

Racial disparities in Juvenile Justice:

Within the Juvenile Justice System there seems to be prejudicial treatment, however, they

may simply be disparities. No one can deny that racism has existed and still does in isolated

instances however, it is not institutionalized. The criminal justice system is set up to judge all

equally, there are some arguments that state a law that requires a large fine is unfair for some

urban black youth as their families make less money than a suburban white youth families. This

is, however, the unfortunate side effects of societal differences and not a racist approach within
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the criminal justice system. To be fair fines must be within the same range for all who commit

similar crimes; however, it is with bail that the true disparities can be seen.

Bail amounts according to the Eighth Amendment (1791), “Excessive bail shall not be

required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Unfortunately, the terminology allows a much broader approach in applying bail for instance is it

equal to a person’s monthly, annual, bi annual or more salary. According to the decision in Stack

versus Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951) Justice’s Jackson and Frankfurter stated, “In allowance of bail,

the duty of the judge is to reduce the risk by fixing an amount reasonably calculated to hold the

accused available for trial and its consequence?”

In establishing that exorbitant bail amounts would not be allowed this case has helped

guide sitting justices for decades. According to a Justice Policy Institute report published 2002,

between the years 1985 and 1995 the proportion of minority youth in detention (pre-trial)

increased and eventually represented the largest number of detained juveniles. The report went

on to say, “Because detention is a key entry point from which youth further penetrate the

juvenile justice system, decisions made at detention can have a profound impact on

disproportionality – for better or worse.” (Schirali, Ziedenberg, 2002, Pg. 3) So what is the

solution, what is the true cause and is there one simple fix or will it take multiple approaches?

Possible root causes and potential solutions:

There exists obvious disparities and the reasons are not as clear as it may seem, while it

remains obvious that white juveniles are just as or more involved in the consumption of illegal

substances there is a definite disparity in pre-trial detention for this offense. While some

researchers claim that racism is far more prevalent, it can also be assumed that these disparities

are based on flawed policy approaches within the Justice System as well. While the Federal
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government recently released new training protocol regarding racially or ethnically-based

profiling unfortunately, this does not necessarily signify an immediate change. In fact it is far

more likely that law enforcement that have been on the streets for much longer could be using

old techniques simply because they have used these approaches for many years and they have

become a “muscle memory” of sorts.

In martial arts and law enforcement tactical training it is normal procedure to train with

repetitive approaches as this generates a “mental” memory similar to the muscle memory

phenomena that exists for body builders and hand to hand fighters. It is likely that the only way

to ensure these “racist” behaviorisms no longer occur is to ensure that “rookie” law enforcement

officers are no longer placed with older law enforcement agents for training, or that if they are

the seasoned law enforcement is rigorously screened to ensure that negative race-based habits are

not passed on.

Another area of concern is pre-trial detention and sentencing, at present it seems that

statistically there is support for the idea that the true “profiling” lies within this system. Of

course there is also the possibility that this is simply a matter of approach, in many cases bail

may, in fact, be the same or similar in amount; however, in many cases the larger numbers

placed in pre-trial detention are, in fact urban kids who cannot pay the amount regardless.

Sentencing represents yet another potential problem, with a disproportionate amount of

minorities being incarcerated one could assume that the judiciary themselves are at fault.

However, this may be the result of the disparity in the abilities of public defenders versus

paid legal representatives. Public defenders do not necessarily have the funding or sources

available to formulate a proper defense. Public defenders may be more likely to take a plea

bargain than a paid defender based on fund alone, in many cases private investigators and
Juvenile Offenders Race and Ethnicity 8

professional witnesses can be hired to provide additional information and help put the state’s

case in jeopardy. Due to a disparity in income levels minority defendants and those defendants

with public defenders, regardless of race, are less likely to have the funding available for these

luxuries. As a result they are more likely to accept a plea deal versus having charges dismissed or

receiving sentence reductions.


The question should be at this stage, is racism institutionalized or are the race related

issues more inflated than they seem? In looking at the statistics, it seems that race issues are in

fact, institutionalized; however, when one looks at the general law enforcement policies up until

recently it becomes apparent that in many cases profiling has evolved based on generally held

prejudices and not the statistical evidence as seen above. In fact accepting the recent rise in

counter terrorism training and the potential terrorist threat there is little evidence that supports

using race alone as an indicator of criminal activity.

Race or ethnically-based profiling is a useful and appropriate tool however, it is only a

tool and used alone it can have a negative social impact. Within the juvenile justice system there

is obvious discrepancies in many areas, pointedly in pre-trial detention and sentencing. While

arrests are generally within the accepted ratios, it is the trial and sentencing phase that seems to

be the obvious current problem. Amended approaches to current policing and judicial approaches

could help change the current disparity that exists. With additional research in this area we will

be able to assess better the changes necessary to serve the community at large and reduce the

idea that racism is institutionalized within the justice system.

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BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, Initials. (1954).

U.S. Supreme Court. Argued December 9, 1952. Reargued December 8, 1953. Decided

May 17, 1954. , Retrieved from


Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, Initials. (1883).

U.S. Supreme Court. Submitted October Term, 1882 Decided October 16th, 1888,

Retrieved from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-


Eighth Amendment. (1791). 1 annals of congress 438 (1789).

Introduced by James Madison ratified by Congress in 1791

Puzzanchera, C. (2009). Juvenile arrests 2007.

Juvenile Justice Bulletin, Office of Justice Programs, Retrieved from


Schirali, Ziedenberg, V, J. (2002).

Reducing disproportionate minority confinement: the multnomah county, oregon success

story and its implications. JUSTICE POLICY INSTITUTE, (pg. 3), Retrieved from
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Stack vs. Boyle, 342 U.S. 1 (1951) , . (2010). Stack et al. v. boyle, united states marshal.

on petition for writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit.

no. 400. Argued October 18, 1951. Decided November 5, 1951, Retrieved from