Minority youths in Anchorage are referred to the Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) for delinquent behavior at rates much higher than white youths, according to a study undertaken by the Justice Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Further, while minority youths constitute only 34 percent of the juvenile population, they represent 61 percent of the referrals to DJJ. The findings of this latest study, which was funded by the National Institute of Justice, parallel those of somewhat similar studies that looked at referrals on a statewide basis in the 1990s.
The 2002 Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDP) requires that states participating in the formula grants program make reasonable efforts to address the problem of disproportionately high minority referrals—which is termed disproportionate minority contact in the field of juvenile justice. Numerous studies have shown that the problem is widespread throughout the country.
In Anchorage the disproportionality appears for all minority groups, across both genders, and it appears for both new offenses and for probation and conduct violations. In addition, disproportionate rates of minority referrals are not confined to specific areas in Anchorage but rather appear across the municipality as a whole.
The findings discussed here are the first from an extended examination of race, ethnicity, and juvenile justice in Anchorage. This first look at the situation did not try to discern the reasons behind the disproportionate rates. The findings comprise basic data on the number and rate of referrals by race, gender and place of residence as well as by the type of referral.
The Process of Juvenile Referrals
A youth whose behavior may have violated a criminal law is referred to the Division of Juvenile Justice. After the referral, DJJ decides the appropriate course of action. Some cases are handled informally without petitioning the juvenile court. For others—usually for more serious offenses or with chronic misbehavior, the juvenile appears in juvenile court to be adjudicated. Pending an adjudication date, certain conditions may be placed on a juvenile: for example, a curfew may be set. Violation of such pre-adjudication conditions constitutes a conduct violation—one of the types of referral examined in this study. Upon adjudication—the determination of guilt—other conditions may be imposed. Violation of these constitutes a probation violation—also examined in this study. The referrals for conduct and probation offenses as examined here were usually made by a juvenile probation officer.
The study focused on Anchorage youths referred to the Division of Juvenile Justice from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005. The final sample, refined for examination, included 1936 from an overall total of 2098 juveniles referred during that period.
Data were collected on an individual’s race, gender, type of referral and place of residence.
Race was classified according to seven categories—White, Black, Native, Pacific Islander, Asian, other minorities, and multiracial.
Percentages and Rates of Referral
Throughout the city, 61 percent of all referrals were of minority youth. Since the minority youth population constitutes only 34 percent of the total Anchorage juvenile population, this total percentage for minority youth was strongly disproportionate. Of this 61 percent—1184 referrals in all, 23 percent were Black juveniles; 31 percent, Native; 10 percent, Asian; 7 percent, Pacific Islander; and 30 percent other or multiracial (Table 1).
These distributions were generally found for both males and females and in referrals for both new offenses and probation and conduct violations (Table 2). In other words, the disproportionate contact occurred to the same extent despite differences in gender or type of offense. One significant difference across gender and referral type was found for Native females. The percentage of Native women referred for conduct and probation violations (53%) was significantly higher than both the percentage referred for new crimes (20%) and the percentage of Native males referred for conduct and probation violations (17%).
When viewed from the perspective of rates of referral, the sample revealed that White youth were referred at the rate of 34 per 1000 youth in the population; Blacks at 120; Natives at 129; Asian youth at 59; Pacific Islander youth at 166; and youths who classified themselves as other at a rate of 94; and those who classified themselves as multiracial at 83.5 (Table 3).
When rates of referral are compared, the figures show that Blacks were referred at a rate 3.56 times greater than Whites; Natives at a rate 3.82 times greater; Asian juveniles, 1.76 times; Pacific Islander youth, 4.94 times; other minority youth, 2.8 times; and multiracial juveniles, 2.48 times.
Again, this disproportionality was found for both genders and for both types of offense examined (Table 4). The phenomenon of disproportionate minority contact for referrals to DJJ was not limited to specific races, to one or the other gender or to type of referral.
Figure 1 shows the numbers of referrals for all youths by census tract, according to the place of residence. The highest number of referrals by census tract occurs for youths who live in the north central part of the city—roughly, those census tracts that include the community council areas of Mountain View, Fairview, Russian Jack, Northeast Anchorage, Airport Heights, Spenard, Campbell Park, North Star, and Downtown.
In general, the geographic analysis revealed that disproportionate minority contact occurred across the entire municipality. In other words, with only a handful exceptions, youth from all minorities in all census tracts were more likely to be referred to DJJ than White juveniles (Table 5). The overall level of the disproportion, however, varied substantially across the city, as did the disproportion for different racial groups. As Figure 2 and Table 5 show, the racial group for which referrals were the highest varied from census tract to census tract, as did the rates of referral and the ratio between the rate of referral for a minority group and that for Whites.
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This initial look at the scope of minority referrals in Anchorage did not attempt to explain why the disproportions exist. In later stages of this project researchers will attempt to discern what factors are associated with the disproportionate contact. In particular, the planned research will attempt to discern why the rates of referral for minority youth—particularly in some census tracts—are so disproportionately high.
In addition to conducting further quantitative analysis, researchers will use focus groups, field observation, interviews and surveys to elicit information from school resource officers and other school officials. Focus groups will also be set up with community residents and members of community organizations as well as with youths themselves. The goal of conducting the focus groups will be to generate hypotheses about the causes of minority youth overrepresentation. Such hypotheses can then be further examined.
In addition, later stages of the project will also include a look at disparities that may be occurring within the juvenile justice process beyond the referral stage. This portion of the study will also include both qualitative and quantitative analyses, with an examination of selected case files, further focus groups, interviews and structured surveys.
What this article contains is just a first glimpse at the scope of the issue of minority overrepresentation in the juvenile justice system.
This article is derived from Quantitative Analysis of Disparities in Juvenile Delinquency Referrals by André B. Rosay and Ronald S. Everett (Justice Center, 2006).